Cedar Rapids council will vote on 180-day billboard moratorium next month

Plan for new sign on Slumberland property blocked

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Sign companies have hurried to submit 15 billboard requests to City Hall in the first two weeks of January, in a flurry of activity, as the City Council considers rule changes related to the number and placement of billboards in the city.

As a result, Christine Butterfield, the cityís Community Development director, laid out a proposal for the council Tuesday night to enact a 180-day moratorium on new requests for traditional and digital billboards and digital on-premise signs, to give the council a chance to decide on new rules.

Mayor Ron Corbett, who has called for the new billboard rules in recent weeks, told the council that he pushed to get the moratorium on Tuesday nightís council agenda because the City Planning Commission had recommended one earlier this month, and because the cityís Board of Adjustment has expressed concerns about the proliferation of billboards.

Corbett, though, said his push to enact the moratorium sidestepped the councilís committee process, so he and the council referred the matter to the councilís Development Committee for its recommendation first. The council will now vote on the matter in February.

In February and March, Butterfield said her department intends to bring together representatives from sign companies, neighborhood associations, the City Planning Commission, the Board of Adjustment and the cityís commercial districts to discuss the cityís sign ordinance.

Tuesday night, the council also temporarily blocked the Board of Adjustmentís decision on a 3-2 vote last week to grant a zoning variance to allow a new 50-foot-tall digital billboard on the site of the Slumberland furniture store at 215 Collins Rd. SE. In so doing, the council remanded the matter back to the board for further study.

Dean Spina, an attorney for sign company MediaQuest Outdoor, questioned the councilís ability to remand the matter, and asked the council to let the Board of Adjustment decision stand so the sign company can move ahead on the Slumberland site.

This particular digital billboard had been headed to undeveloped land next to the Slumberland site that is owned via donation by the Indian Creek Nature Center. The Nature Centerís board of directors, though, decided against the MediaQuest billboard and the companyís $200,000 offer to put it on Nature Center property after some on the Nature Centerís board, as well as Mayor Corbett, spoke out against a billboard on that section of highway. To Corbett's surprise, MediaQuest then went next door to the Slumberland site and secured a special variance to allow the sign.

The city of Cedar Rapids has 79 billboards, Butterfield said.

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