Port’s proposed LED sign ban hits a roadblock

Alderman don’t like idea of prohibiting electronic message boards but say they should be regulated
Ozaukee Press staff

A proposal to effectively ban electronic changeable letter signs — aka LED signs — in Port Washington met with resistance from the Common Council and a local businessman during the ordinance’s first review Tuesday night.

Instead of banning these signs, some aldermen said, the city should take steps to regulate such elements as the brightness of the images and the speed with which the message changes.

“I think what’s really important about signs is that they’re done well,” Ald. John Sigwart said.

Ald. Dan Benning added, “I don’t want us to become Las Vegas or Times Square in New York.”

But, he added, “I don’t particularly care for the way this is written. I don’t particularly care for the harshness. I think we’re better off managing the technology than prohibiting it.”

The proposal came from the Plan Commission and Planner Bob Harris, who are concerned with the proliferation of this type of sign in the community and fear it will take away from the charm of the city.

The commission looked at regulations in four communities and recommended what it referred to as the Shorewood model, where LED signs are prohibited except for gas stations, where fuel prices can be changed.

But Port isn’t Shorewood, said Paul Drews, who last year installed an LED sign at Drews True Value.

He said the city should allow these signs, but added that there may be areas where they are more acceptable than others.

“Something that would work on the north end of town or the extremely west end of town may not work in downtown,” he said.  

LED signs are necessary to allow small businesses to compete against larger stores, Drews added, noting that when he installed the sign sales increased by 12% and the customer count by 6%.

“That sign brings people in. It was immediately effective,” he said. 

He questioned whether officials want to deprive local businesses of “what could be a competitive advantage.” 

“It’s a business tool. Do we want to be a pristine Norman Rockwell postcard community?” Drews asked. “Or do we want a vibrant business community that provides jobs and services?”

Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven, a member of the Plan Commission, said LED signs may be most effective now because few businesses have them, but they are proliferating and as that occurs they could be less effective.

“They’ve kind of crept into the fabric of Port Washington,” he said. “Once you have five in a row, is it going to be as effective? Maybe it’s time to close the door.”

The issue boils down to what the character of Port Washington is going to be, he added.

“Are we going to look like Anytown USA or are we going to look like a community that’s trying to maintain its character?” Vanden Noven asked. “I think you’re going to lose a little bit of what makes Port special (if these signs are allowed).”

Sigwart suggested that LED signs might be appropriate on the outskirts of downtown but may be wrong for the central shopping district.

“I think there’s more to be done with this ordinance,” he said.

  The ordinance is expected to be considered again when the council meets on Tuesday, June 4.


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