What to do with animated signs

By Gray Hughes

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At the July 15  meeting of the Hill City Planning and Zoning Commission, the plan was to vote on the proposed sign ordinance with further discussion on the use of animated and electronic signs. However, the only commission members present were Dale Householder and Keith VanNess, meaning a quorum was not present and the board could not take action on any item.

But that was not the case at the most recent meeting  Aug. 5 where all five members of the commission were present.

“The big question is: what do we want to do with animated signs?” asked Dani Schade, development service coordinator for Hill City.

A proposed revision to the Hill City sign ordinance has been discussed by the commission for several months. At the July 15 meeting, although it was not an official meeting, there was discussion regarding what should be done regarding electric signs.

According to Chapter 10 of the Hill City Municipal Code, an animated sign is “a sign employing actual motion or the illusions of motion.” Animated signs include electrically activated signs (signs that have features such as flashing lights or patterned illusionary movement), environmentally activated (signs that have features motivated by wind, thermal changes or other natural environmental input which includes spinners, pinwheels, pennant strings and other devices or displays that respond to nature and naturally occurring events) and mechanically activated (which are signs characterized by repetitive motion and rotation by a mechanical system powered by electric motors or other mechanically induced means).

Also according to Chapter 10, an electric sign defined as a sign “activated or illuminated by means of electrical energy.”

Electric and animated signs are not allowed within the Hill City Central Business District, defined as the area of Main Street in between McGregor and Elm street.

At the July 15 meeting, toward the end of the meeting there was discussion on whether or not so-called “reader boards” — signs that are electric and display a message such as the sign at Krull’s Market or at the Hill City schools — should be allowed.

At the Aug. 5 meeting, that is right where the board picked up.

There is the possibility the changes to the ordinance could once again be amended to allow for reader board signs so that places such as the school could keep its sign, Schade said.

“Reader board signs are necessary as they convey a message to locals and travels alike,” Householder said. He said the commission should focus more on the animated signs.

It seems odd, said Jim Peterson, a member of the Hill City Common Council, that a neon sign would not be OK but an illuminated, lit sign would be. (According to Hill City code, a neon sign is OK if it is located inside of the business.)

“A lit sign is a lit sign,” said Randy Berger, of Warrior’s Work and Ben West Gallery. “If a backlit sign is OK, then here comes Dairy Queen and Harley Davidson with their signs. …Then we would have a nice, glowing town. I am totally against it.”

Schade said to take a look at the Alpine Inn, whose only sign is a wooden sign.

It is probably the busiest place in town, and it doesn’t have an electric sign, Schade said.

“The Black Hills Institute, Alpine Inn, Jon Crane Gallery, on those businesses you don’t have flashing neon signs and open flags,” Berger said.

Eric Lind of Krull’s Market said there a couple things to keep in mind.

First, he said, his business — which does have a reader board sign — doesn’t need to have one, however, he has one to keep people informed of what is going on in his store as well as to attract business.

“Hill City needs revenue,” he said. “We are different and trying to differentiate ourselves from Amazon, Walmart and Rapid City. …An electric sign is a good way to attract people to stop and shop.”

Kathy Skorzewski, Hill City mayor who was serving as the liaison to the commission from the common council, said she agreed with some in the audience who said electric signs are good for businesses.

When questioned if electric signs could possibly be allowed in the Central Business District, Householder said that is not the case.

“I don’t think anyone wants that at all,” he said.

Householder then said that the commission is not in a hurry to pass the proposed sign ordinance revisions and suggested tabling the matter until the next meeting Aug. 19 and bringing it back as an action item with more discussion on electric signs.

The motion to table passed 5-0.

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