Medford council decides to update sign ordinance

Medford laws need to be updated to deal with eye-popping electronic signs, the City Council decided Thursday.

The council asked the city staff to prepare proposals that could limit the number of reader board signs, as well as their intensity and how often their content changes.

Newer electronic signs are capable of displaying full-motion graphics with vivid colors, such as the new display at the Verizon store on Riverside Avenue near Crater Lake Highway.

"It's just this fast-moving stuff and video coming at you," Councilor John Michaels said.

Michaels inadvertently provided an example of the problems of displaying text on signs in which one part of a phrase follows another, known as sequential messaging.

He said the Verizon sign indicated you could "text and drive."

"What a bad message," Michaels said, before Councilor Chris Corcoran corrected him.

Corcoran said the full message actually stated, "If you want to test an air bag ... text and drive."

The council instructed its planning staff to come back with language to address its various concerns.

In 2009, the Medford Planning Commission recommended having a minimum of 10 seconds between changes in text and graphics.

The council decided against the proposals and allowed full-motion graphics and text changes every two seconds. Corcoran said he regrets not following the Planning Commission's recommendations.

"Now I wouldn't be seeing the spinning slot machines like at the Ace Hardware store," he said.

The Medford Planning Department estimates there are at least 48 electronic signs in the city.

Planning Director Jim Huber said there have been some studies that indicate motorists are distracted by electronic signs.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded in a 2006 analysis that glances of more than two seconds at a sign result in double the risk of crashes or near crashes.

Other cities have enacted ordinances that limit or prohibit the use of electronic signs.

Seattle requires 20 seconds of darkness following every message, which can be displayed for a minimum of two seconds and a maximum of 10 seconds. Electronic signs must be placed a minimum of 35 feet apart in Seattle.

Bend doesn't allow animated signs or blinking, flashing or fluttering lights.

Corvallis requires messages be displayed for a minimum of 20 minutes, with no flashing, blinking or other distracting effects.

The council also wanted to find some way of finding relief for People's Bank of Commerce, which has a new building at the corner of Barnett Road and Highland Drive.

The bank wants to install an electronic sign but the ordinance prohibits locating it within 150 feet of land zoned residential. The land in this case is across Highland Drive, is owned by the city and is currently used as a dog park.

Councilors considered changing the residential zoning on the dog park property to commercial but realized that could be a time-consuming process.

In the meantime, they have asked for a change in wording to the ordinance that would allow the bank to apply for a conditional use permit.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or

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