Letter to the Editor — 27 November 2013
Electronic billboards – maintenance or madness?

Nancy Ebel, St. Joseph

On a dark November night, at a sparsely attended meeting, a decision was made that does affect you. On Nov. 12, the St. Joseph Township Board welcomed electronic billboards into our community. They determined there is no difference between these electronic distractions and their traditional counterparts. Itʼs merely a matter of a “maintenance upgrade.” This sets a precedent for other billboards in the township to easily get a “maintenance upgrade” also. As the electronic billboards are more profitable for the landowner and the billboard company, you can guess the outcome of this story. And so our hamlet joins the ranks of St. Cloudʼs Division Street.

But community aesthetics aside, why should you care? Because it might affect your pocketbook. In a 2011 study done in Pittsburgh by city planner Jonathan Snyder (Beyond Aesthetics: How Billboards Affect Economic Prosperity), it was conclusively demonstrated billboards negatively affect surrounding home values. It was found homes within 500 feet of a billboard were $30,826 less valuable at the time of purchase than homes that were not. But luckily you are not that close, so why should you care? Because it still might affect your property value. The Pittsburgh study also looked at home values as related to billboard numbers within the cityʼs U.S. census tracts. They found within the census tracts that EACH billboard reduced the value of the homes by $947. This study was done in 2011 and did not bring up the electronic billboard issue, but as electronic billboards have more visual impact, the effect on our community could be even greater.

The St. Joseph City Council is also dealing with this subject. They are currently considering a request (extended for the next couple of months) for an electronic billboard on the west side of town. This billboard is located in a residential neighborhood behind Centennial Park. They have also recently placed a one-year moratorium on electronic-sign applications in the city in order to study this issue further. So this is our chance. We need to ask ourselves if this is really maintenance, or is this madness? Are traditional and electronic billboards really the same? Do we really want commercials flashing at us as we drive down the street? Will the billboard companies plan the landscape of St. Joseph (and they are at every meeting!), or will it be the people? Is it one landownerʼs right to make a profit at the expense of another landownerʼs view and property values? Will the St. Joseph Township Board and City Council uphold the common good or cave to the billboard industry? Will you be heard on this issue?

Note: The billboard on the east side of town is currently on a dimmer setting than previously, but the fact remains there is no entity regulating electronic billboard brightness or movement other than the ownerʼs discretion.

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(1) Reader Comment

  1. I respect the fact that Ms. Ebel does not like billboards, however the limited remaining 5 billboards within the city limits provide an important function for local St. Joe businesses. Due to easements and set-back requirements the area along Hwy 75 in St. Joe will never become “another Division Street” as she indicated.

    The decrease of home values that were cited in the editorial appear to be unrealistic. The $31G decrease in value of homes within 500 feet of a billboard might be accurate but the reason is more likely due to the fact that the home is located that close to a busy street or commercial area rather than just being close to a sign. I also don’t think the county assessor or a real estate agent would agree that my home is worth $5G less
    just because there are 5 billboards in town.

    MN state statutes (462.357 Subd. 3) states that any establishment or amendment to a Zoning Ordinance MUST have a public hearing before implementation. Yet the city placed an up to one-year moratorium Zoning Ordinance on any new illuminated sign last month with no such opportunity for public input. They side stepped the public input by citing a provision of MN law dealing with Comprehensive Plans (note: Comp Plans deal with broad visions of the city and not details such as illuminated signs). I agree with Ms. Ebel that the public should be heard but disagree with her statement that the billboard company representatives “are at every meeting”. The only time I have seen them at a meeting were a couple of times when the specific billboard items were on the agenda.

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