URBANA — At the request of Adams Outdoor Advertising, Urbana City Council members this week will talk about whether to allow digital billboards along main traffic arteries through town.
Digital billboards have been allowed in Champaign for several years under certain conditions, but the discussion does bring concerns about aesthetics and traffic safety, too.
Champaign officials say, however, that there has been no noticeable effect since the signs were first allowed in 2007.
The Urbana City Council will meet at 7 p.m. Monday in the Urbana City Building, 400 S. Vine St., when they are scheduled to talk about whether they should allow advertising companies to erect digital billboards.
The dichotomy of billboard rules in Champaign and Urbana has been a problem for businesses that want to display their message to consumers via Adams Outdoor Advertising's digital network, said Cain Kiser, the real estate manager for the agency.
"They can reach the Champaign audience when they buy our digital network, but they cannot reach Urbana," Kiser said.
The billboards offer a number of other advantages for advertisers: more flexibility in creative design and less difficulty in changing the message that the billboard displays.
"You can have a different design in the morning than you can at night," Kiser said.
Initially in Champaign, there were some complaints, said Assistant Planning and Development Director Rob Kowalski. But those complaints were about the aesthetics, not about safety issues.
The complaints have since tapered off, and city officials hear very little about them, Kowalski said.
Digital billboards in Champaign must comply with certain regulations to minimize distractions to drivers. The message must not blink or flash, and each display has to last for at least 10 seconds. Transitions between advertisements must be solid, and the billboards must include automatic dimmers so they are not too bright at night.
Kiser said the benefit to the city is that the advertising company works to display urgent community messages: The digital displays are part of the nationwide Amber Alert network, and they have an agreement with the FBI if there is a fugitive at large in the area.
Adams Outdoor Advertising also works with Champaign County Crimestoppers to display messages looking for information about a crime, and has worked with the police when the department is looking for new recruits.
Champaign also has a special zoning district that includes downtown and Campustown. Advertisers can only erect a new digital billboard outside of that area, and only if they remove two billboard faces from within that zone — a 2-for-1 exchange.
Urbana Community Development Director Libby Tyler said Monday's discussion is not the initiation of a formal process.
"I think this is not a staff-initiated amendment at this point," Tyler said. "This is something some of the council members were interested in talking about."
To allow digital billboards, the city would need to amend its zoning ordinance, which is a much more formal process. The city could choose to regulate any number of aspects: location, number and brightness, among others.
"The city has an interest in regulating outdoor signage to protect the safety and the aesthetics of the community," Tyler said.