URBANA — Digital billboards seem not to be in the cards for Urbana — at least not the immediate future — after the city council could not get enough votes this week to initiate the process to introduce the electronic signs to city streets.
The request to allow digital billboards came from Adams Outdoor Advertising, which said the businesses that use their billboards cannot reach Urbana consumers. Urbana does not allow digital billboards, but Champaign does.
Council members mustered three votes to direct city administrators to draw up rules to allow digital billboards, but with one council member absent, the 3-3 tie was not enough to move forward.
Even if the absent council member, Michael P. Madigan, were to vote "yes," it is likely that Mayor Laurel Prussing would veto the zoning amendment. City council members would need five votes to override that veto.
Monday's discussion was centered largely on aesthetics, although some expressed concerns about distractions to drivers, too. Cain Kiser, the real estate manager for Adams Outdoor Advertising, said digital billboards in Champaign seem to have had no effect on traffic accidents at intersections where they have been installed.
Kiser also said that, under Champaign's zoning rules, they have to remove two billboards on Green Street or in downtown Champaign every time they erect a new digital billboard. The 2-for-1 exchange ultimately means fewer billboard faces in the city.
Prussing, however, said that deal might be a bit misleading. Digital billboards allow Adams Outdoor Advertising to sell space to multiple advertisers compared to just one with traditional static displays.
"I think you'll get more advertising, not less," Prussing said. "And I think it's being sold as reducing the clutter; I think it's going to add clutter."
Alderman Dennis Roberts, D-Ward 5, said it is an unnecessary intrusion of technology and messaging into people's lives.
"When we don't have an option of turning it off to protect our personal space, I think it becomes a public issue," Roberts said.
A few residents expressed their disapproval, too. University of Illinois professor Clark Bullard said Urbana should not move forward just to copy Champaign.
"We don't have to ape Champaign in everything Champaign does," Bullard said.
Cinema Gallery owner Carolyn Baxley said that Urbana prides itself in the way it looks — particularly the downtown area.
"I don't think that, aesthetically, they belong in Urbana," Baxley said.