Signs of discord

It is against Oregon law to operate a motor vehicle equipped with a television set that is visible to the driver. But giant electronic billboards apparently are OK, subject to local ordinances.

Distracting drivers is just one concern arising from the large reader board looming over traffic on North Riverside Avenue. The other concern is aesthetic.

The Medford City Council considered the issue in a study session Thursday. Councilors are on the right track in deciding to strengthen the city's sign ordinance to address electronic reader boards. The council also is right to pursue an exception for a smaller sign adjacent to land zoned residential where no actual residences are present.

The sign on North Riverside near the Rogue Valley Mall covers 150 square feet. Equipped with closely-spaced LED lights, it produces vivid colors and eye-catching movement as it advertises for the Verizon store situated on the property.

It's nice that the company that owns the sign agrees to display public information for emergency providers along with the advertising, but that shouldn't influence any decision the council may make.

Businesses ought to be able to advertise their products and services, but the manner in which they do so should be subject to reasonable limitations. Beyond the concern about distracting passing motorists, such signs add to the visual clutter that is common in urban environments. The public has an interest in limiting that clutter and maintaining a pleasant visual environment.

Reasonable limits could include setting a maximum size, limiting the number of signs in a given area and restricting the motion such signs can display or the refresh rate of displayed text — all of which the council discussed Thursday.

The Riverside sign is causing a stir because it's a novelty — for now. But it won't be long before more such signs crop up around town — even more reason for the council to address the issue now.

Not every business can afford the Verizon sign's reported $100,000 price tag — but some can, and more can manage smaller versions at $50,000, such as the one People's Bank has proposed for its new building at Barnett Road and Highland Drive.

Bank President Ken Troutman says he needs the sign to advertise two medical businesses that soon will lease space on the building's second floor and to promote the bank's loan rates. But the city ordinance prohibits such signs within 150 feet of land zoned for residential use.

In the bank's case, the residential zoned land is the city dog park across the street.

Crafting sign restrictions is always controversial; some residents want to keep signs as unobtrusive as possible, which can defeat the purpose, while others see any limitations as anti-business. The council should proceed with care, but it should proceed.

One thing is for sure: The dogs won't mind.

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