Township Changes Heart On Changeable Digital Signs

SANATOGA PA – It flashes. It blinks. It rolls and scrolls. It can speak to the masses. And Lower Pottsgrove officials wouldn’t mind having one to call their own … if only they hadn’t made it such a politically sensitive issue.

Township Changes Heart On Changeable Digital Signs

An electronic message sign in Royersford that was installed for the borough’s use

“It” is a digital message display – a computer-driven, regularly changing, lighted electronic sign – that members of the Board of Commissioners generally agree would be helpful to install on the front lawn of the municipal building at 2199 Buchert Road. The sign could daily remind passers-by at the corner of Buchert and North Pleasant View roads of all things happening in the township.

Their problem is the Zoning Code and, specifically, its Article XXVI that contains legal language regulating signage in the township. It limits the size and shape of electronic signs, how and where they can be put, how frequently messages can change, how brightly they’re lit, and a variety of other factors. Those who want such a sign have, for the most part, been required to get zoning waivers.

The board has faced an increasing number of requests for digital signs in recent years. It formerly took what Commissioner James Kaiser described with a smile on Thursday (May 22, 2014) as a “rigorous” approach to controlling them. Their intentions were good, commissioners argue: they wanted to keep such signs from creating visual pollution that detracts from the township’s appearance.

Like the signs themselves, though, times change.

Township Changes Heart On Changeable Digital Signs

A digital billboard like that owned by Lamar Advertising on Porter Road

Electronic signs are now common in western Montgomery County, and are seen daily within Lower Pottsgrove’s borders. The two largest, giant digital billboards owned by Lamar Advertising of Penn LLC, hover above U.S. Route 422 at Porter Road and show commercial messages every 10 seconds. The board narrowly averted a court fight with Lamar when it grudgingly approved their installation in 2011.

Others have been put up too, infrequently and usually accompanied by controversy. Coventry Christian Schools won approval for an electronic sign outside its North Pleasant View Road building in 2009. Sunnybrook Ballroom installed its sign in 2011, three years after it was initially proposed.

A few who wanted electronic signs later decided they weren’t worth pursuing. National Penn Bank withdrew its application to install a sign outside its East High Street branch office; so did H&K Group for one it hoped to mount on a hillside adjacent to 422.

With that history behind them, commissioners have openly expressed concern in previous meetings about opposition they might face in erecting a township electronic sign. Because the municipal building is located within an R2 residential zone, the board would have to ask the Zoning Hearing Board – whose members it appointed – for a variance.

Commissioners had hoped Montgomery County would get them out of this jam. Its planning department was writing a comprehensive sign ordinance that included electronic displays and was intended to serve as a municipal model. It apparently remains a work in progress.

Lower Pottsgrove already has grant money it can use to buy and install the sign, costing about $19,000, Manager Ed Wagner reported. It could rewrite the sign ordinance itself, with an obvious eye on allowing its own use, but that will take time. It could appeal to the Zoning Hearing Board for help, like any other applicant, and take its chances.

Or, as Solicitor Robert Brant suggested during Thursday’s meeting, commissioners might consider adopting a law that essentially says township laws don’t apply to the township itself. “You could exempt yourselves,” he said in a brief explanation.

Board members took no action on the matter. But they’ve seen and commented on the electronic sign outside the Limerick Township municipal building on West Ridge Pike, and the one at the entrance to Royersford on Main Street, and repeated they sure would like one of their own.

Related (to the Lower Pottsgrove Board of Commissioners’ May 22 meeting):

Photos from Google Images