Council paves way for billboards

The City Council on Monday night unanimously agreed to reduce a six-month, citywide moratorium on electronic billboards to three months. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Local businessman Jacob “Jake” Johnson should have two new digital billboards on top of his Court Street building by early spring.

The City Council on Monday night unanimously agreed to reduce a six-month, citywide moratorium on electronic billboards to three months, making Mr. Johnson happy that he can proceed with the two LED billboards on his building at 104 Court St.

“The council did a fine job,” Mr. Johnson said later.

City Manager Rick Finn initially proposed a year-long moratorium, but council members balked, saying that a digital billboard ordinance should not take that long.

It was shortened to six months before the new council on Monday night agreed it only needed three months.

Two existing billboards are nonconforming and cannot be changed until new zoning language is changed.

Before the vote, four people expressed support for Mr. Johnson’s electronic billboards and the proposed ordinance itself.

City resident Jason Traynor, who frequently attends council meetings, said digital billboards will generate revenue and help promote local businesses.

“It’s opportunity to show we’re going forward and not backward,” he said.

Councilman Ryan Henry-Wilkinson also pointed out that the entire council supports LED billboards.

Before the vote, Michael A. Lumbis, the city’s planning and community development director, said it will take between six and eight weeks to get the ordinance written and through the approval process of the city’s and county’s planning boards, hold a public hearing on the subject and for council members to vote on it and get it on the books.

Mr. Johnson already has ordered the two LED billboards and plans to install them as soon as the city completes the approval process, he said.

The subject of digital billboards came up after the city’s Code Enforcement Office denied a request to allow Mr. Johnson to replace two existing billboards with digital signs on the roof of his building.

In denying Mr. Johnson’s sign application, the Codes Enforcement Office decided the billboards would be too much of a distraction to tenants in the Woolworth building across the street and to motorists driving through the area.

While Mr. Johnson has to wait for his LED signs, the owner of Big Apple Music was able to install one on his Arsenal Street business because it was approved for zoning in that busy neighborhood.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(2) comments


The ordinance should prohibit the boards having moving or flashing graphics or being changed more than once an hour or something. Faster changing (like once a minute) could be allowed with a permit that takes into account the location and the type of display. A series of digital text messages on a straight stretch of road, such as on the signs in front of the State building or at Americu is one thing. A movie trying to attract attention at the tricky public square intersection is something else.


I think there should also be a reasonable brightness limit. I expressed my feeling to the council that if they put a brightness and animation/dwell time limit, I think we could have a good ordinance where everybody wins city wide.

Other states and cities already have similar laws we can draw from, and the billboard marketing association has information too nationwide, so it shouldn't be too hard.

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