Oak Park Heights allows electronic message boards

Businesses and other organizations will now be allowed to display electronic message boards in Oak Park Heights.

In the past, city code prohibited electronic message boards, but in August the planning commission suggested that electronic message boards might be preferable to those changed manually. In response to the commission’s interest in the topic, the city council authorized staff to study potential ordinance changes.

At the recommendation of the planning commission, the city council unanimously approved an amended sign ordinance Jan. 14.

Under the new regulations, each site will be allowed one freestanding sign with a changing electronic message. The changeable message area may not be larger than 35 percent of the sign’s total area, and it may not directly face residentially zoned property.

The ordinance also says messages can’t change more than once every 10 seconds, except for hour, minute, date or temperature information, which may change every three seconds.

“This is similar to what a lot of cities have done,” said Oak Park Heights City Planner Scott Richards.

In crafting the ordinance, the planning commission initially looked at ordinances in Lakeville, Minnetonka, Stillwater and Woodbury. According to city staff reports, the study included Lakeville and Minnetonka because “they have been the metro leaders in providing detailed and thorough requirements related to changeable message boards and dynamic displays” and because they both have significant freeway frontage. The study included Stillwater and Woodbury due to their proximity to Oak Park Heights and their highway frontage.

In Lakeville messages are allowed to change once a minute, and changeable message boards require a yearly license. Minnetonka allows messages to change every 20 minutes, but hour, minute, date and temperature data may change every three seconds. Stillwater allows only time and temperature signs and barber poles. Its ordinance does not specify how often the information may change. In Woodbury messages may change only once a day, and signs require a permit.

The planning commission also considered the frequency of changes allowed to message boards in several other east metro cities.

In addition to changing the ordinance to allow electronic message boards, the city also added definitions of other types of prohibited signs, such as electronic graphic display signs and video display signs.

Richards said the more specific definitions should make enforcement easier for the city if a problem arises.

“I think the result is pretty positive,” Richards told the council.

Contact Jonathan Young at jonathan.young@ecm-inc.com

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