Medford weighs sign law changes

Medford council will weigh sign regulations against modern technology
The Verizon reader-board sign on North Riverside Avenue displays public service announcements and advertising. The Medford City Council is discussing the use of the signs in Medford. Mail Tribune / Bob PennellBob Pennell

Electronic billboards feature graphics that rival flat-screen TVs, and they have caught the watchful eye of the Medford City Council.

"What we're seeing is technology that has made quantum leaps and bounds," said Councilor Chris Corcoran. "Our ordinance has not kept pace."

Corcoran and other councilors will discuss at noon today in City Hall ways to change the sign ordinance to reflect concerns about an evolving technology.

The new reader board at the Verizon store, at 1779 N. Riverside Ave., has attracted the attention of many Medford residents. It surprised some councilors with its full-motion display and vivid colors.

At the other end of town, the new People's Bank of Commerce at the corner of Barnett Road and Highland Drive proposed a more modest reader board.

The bank has been thwarted in its attempts to install the electronic sign because the ordinance prohibits locating it within 150 feet from land zoned residential. The land in this case is the dog park across the street.

Corcoran said the city needs to be mindful that it doesn't step on people's rights to free expression while striving to accommodate the needs of business. Other cities also have lots of visual attractions that don't draw complaints, he noted.

"Look at Times Square," he said. "Businesses have the right to get people's attention. But how much is too much?"

Under the current ordinance, an electronic billboard theoretically could display a full-length movie. The limitation is in how the signs display text, which can be refreshed only every two seconds or more.

Signs also have to have the ability to automatically dim to adjust to ambient light.

Ken Troutman, president and chief executive officer at People's Bank, said he needs the reader-board sign to advertise a couple of medical businesses that will be moving in on the second floor in October.

"We don't want to place a bunch of signs on the property," he said.

Right now, in the space where the reader board would go, handmade signs are installed to display the most current interest rates at the bank.

"It's a little tacky for how beautiful the building is," Troutman said.

The bank has held off ordering the $50,000 reader board until it receives permission from the city.

Troutman said he hopes the city will insert language into the ordinance that will allow a conditional use permit for signs located near residential zoning.

Once installed, the sign will advertise for two-thirds of the time the location of the medical offices of Southern Oregon Spine Care and Therapeutic Associates. The remaining one-third will be devoted to displaying current loan interest rates.

Chris Cheeley, president of Phones Plus, which operates 13 Verizon stores in Oregon, Idaho and Washington, said the reaction to the Medford sign has been similar to the reaction when the same kind of sign was installed in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

"When the first one went up, there was a huge outcry," he said. "It was like the world had come to an end."

But the reaction died down fairly quickly, Cheeley said.

The 150-square-foot electronic sign in Medford cost more than $100,000, he said. It has an automatic dimming feature that adjusts to light.

The sign shuts off automatically at midnight and turns on in the early morning.

Cheeley said he installed two of the signs in Idaho, but this is the first for his company in Oregon.

He said the vivid colors are the result of the LED lights being spaced close together.

Even though the signs are designed to advertise for the store, Cheeley said he agrees to requests from emergency providers to display messages about fires and other public information.

Jim Huber, Medford planning director, said he will make a presentation to the council about the current sign ordinance and seek recommendations as to whether council wants to modify it.

Huber said he hasn't heard of any car accidents as a result of drivers being distracted by reader boards such as the one at Verizon.

"When the sign went up, it attracted a lot of attention," he said. "That seems to have died down now."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.



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