Salt Lake County is placing restrictions on signs known as "electronic message centers" that use scrolling messages or animation.
Drafted at the behest of several community councils, particularly in Millcreek, the new ordinance was approved by the county council Tuesday over objections from one sign company and several businesses that felt it was anti-business. The revisions go into effect Dec. 19 in the unincorporated county.
"I'm very much in favor of this ordinance. It's been a long time in development," said Tom Stephens, a Mount Olympus Community Council member, contending the brightness and moving images in some signs are a "distraction not appropriate for most of Millcreek Township."
Stephens was among a number of Millcreek residents concerned about a proliferation of electronic message centers in front of strip-mall businesses along 3300 South, mostly east of 2300 East.
Nancy Moorman, a planning specialist in the county's Planning and Development office, said the revisions will require these flashing signs to "display only static images," which must remain intact for at least four seconds.
This provision, and one requiring a three-second transition from one static image to another, will limit the use of animation in message centers, which also must be equipped with a sensor to ensure a sign's lights are not too bright, Moorman said.
To increase the ordinance's appeal to businesses, she added, existing message centers may remain until they need to be replaced. And in most commercial and manufacturing zones, message centers will be permitted uses, saving business owners the need to apply for conditional-use permits for their flashing signs.
That's a nice concession but not nearly as important as the need for animation, said Jeff Young, senior vice president of Young Electric Sign Co.
He said the ground-based message centers are small enough that their effectiveness relies on animation to catch a viewer's eye, or scrolling letters to deliver a message about a sale or a deal.
"The demand is there because it's so inexpensive," he said, adding that the ordinance's "grandfather" clause is not that important because signs need to be replaced or upgraded as messages change or technology improves.
"That four-second hold will discourage them from upgrading," added his colleague Jeff Krantz, a sign salesman whose clients include Olympus Hills shopping center, Supersonic car wash and Mountain America Credit Union.
Daniel Nixon, owner of Cube Storage, said "restricting electronic use of signs is not business friendly. It will discourage other business owners from investing in better signage by restricting the use of good technology."
Millcreek Planning Commission member John Janson said he understood individual business owners' concerns, but the ordinance is important to shape "the kind of streetscape we are trying to create in our community."
Making these signs permitted uses is a big concession to businesses, he said, adding "this is a step forward. But know it's not the last decision you're going to make on this."
County Councilman Max Burdick cast the lone vote Tuesday against the ordinance (two other Republicans who opposed it earlier were absent), saying the process was cumbersome. "That's not a good thing to put the business community through."
But Democratic Councilman Jim Bradley mustered more support for his position that the council should follow the recommendations of community councils and planning commissions that largely supported the measure.
The ordinance passed 6-1.
Salt Lake County's revised ordinance governing electronic message centers may be read online at bit.ly/XA5BxC.