Plan commission tables proposed billboard
JANESVILLE After two hours of arguments for and against the construction of a billboard along Milton Avenue, the Janesville Plan Commission granted satisfaction to neither party Monday night.
The debate centered on construction of a 30-by-10 billboard at the former Everhart O'Leary auto dealership at 2628 Milton Avenue. At issue was a provision of the city's sign code requiring that a conditional use permit be obtained for the construction of any billboard 750 linear feet or nearer from the nearest billboard. The permit allows a billboard to be placed within 375 feet of the nearest one.
A motion to approve the billboard was defeated, 3-3. The committee eventually agreed to table the issue for 90 days and forward it to the city council.
Babcock Signs applied for the permit, the first such request since the city passed comprehensive sign laws in 2000.
The laws were a reaction to citizens' concerns after the number of billboards in the community increased 20 percent in one year, said Gale Price, city planner.
Price outlined city staff's reasons for advising against the billboard. Broadly, staff are concerned the billboard would adversely affect the site's redevelopment potential. A primary concern was a redevelopment provision that requires the erection of one deciduous tree that will reach a height of at least 25 feet for each 50 feet of frontage space.
"When somebody goes to bulldoze the buildings on site, and the billboard company doesn't want trees in front of the sign, but we tell the developer they need trees on the site, that's a non-starter," Price said.
Price was also concerned about the billboard's effect on whatever signage a future business has on the property.
"If their sign is only 150 square feet, and it's competing with a 300 square feet sign, where does that leave them?" he asked.
Price said he also was concerned with the potential precedent that could arise if the commission granted an exception.
After Price's presentation, Babcock Signs real estate manager Sean Murphy gave a lengthy rebuttal. Murphy repeatedly touched on a perceived unfairness created by a loophole in the city's sign code that exempts digital signs from its jurisdiction.
Lamar Advertising was able to erect digital billboards in 2007 without having to obey the same provisions, he said.
David Babcock, owner of Babcock Signs, also expressed his frustration to the commission.
Murphy told the commission, in what he said was an attempt to be transparent, that the company planned to eventually switch the billboard to a digital sign.
In light of that information, commission member Edward Madere wondered why the board did not just forward the matter to the council, which could address the matter and close the loophole in the signage laws.
The commission agreed to table the matter. Commission chair and council President Kathy Voskuil said the council would address the matter before the end of the 90-day tabling period.
"Our goal now is to actually get the permitting process simplified," Babcock said. "It's ludicrous that they can't have a process that says either it's allowed or it's not."