The Future of Billboards in Ann Arbor

Should billboards like this be allowed to go digital? Should they be rebuilt or removed if damaged?

Should billboards like this be allowed to go digital? Should they be rebuilt or removed if damaged?

What do you think about the billboards in Ann Arbor? Are they a useful way for local businesses and nonprofits to get their message out? Or are they an eyesore that you wish wasn’t there?

At Council we are debating amendments to the City’s sign ordinance that would include:

  • A ban on all billboards (defined as signs greater than 200 square feet), but grandfather in existing signs. Currently there are 30 billboards in the City limits and a limit of 30 total;
  • Clear regulations on changeable copy signs so that signs like gas station signs can update their price but that would not allow full-scale digital billboards;
  • Regulations on the illumination of signs.

Adams Outdoor Advertising, the largest local billboard company, would like different changes:

  • Explicit permission and regulation of digital billboards;
  • Clear permission to rebuild damaged billboards.

Here are some of the issues at play in this debate:

  • These changes in the proposed ordinance would allow the maintenance of existing billboards, but if a billboard were to be damaged it could not be rebuilt.
  • There is debate about the safety of digital billboards. Adams Outdoor Advertising cites studies saying that digital billboards are “safety neutral.” The National Highway Administration essentially says “the jury is still out.”
  • According to Adams Outdoor Advertising, there are very few locations in the city that conform to the existing sign ordinance, which makes it difficult to relocate signs from residential areas (e.g. the ones up by Knights and Aldi) to more commercial areas.
  • Some argue that billboards are an important way for local businesses and nonprofits to connect with local customers and donors, and these ordinance changes would undermine local nonprofits and economic development opportunities (you can see some letters of support in the Council packet)
  • Environmental concerns: How would the requested digital changes affect light pollution, energy use, landfill waste, and toxins?

You can read more about the issue on the Ann Arbor Chronicle.

There will be a public hearing of this issue on May 6. Please let me know your thoughts.

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