Tosa says 'no' to changing messages more than once a day

Proposal to loosen electronic sign rule fails to gain ground

Feb. 21, 2012

There will be no change to electronic sign regulations in Wauwatosa, not even on a trial basis.

The Common Council tonight voted 8-6 against allowing businesses that already have electronic signs to change the message every 10 minutes for a period of 90 days.

Instead, the law will continue to stipulate that messages can only change once per day.

When aldermen started debating a possible change a month ago, they were initially concerned about potential traffic hazards. But the discussion has since come to focus on city aesthetics.

Alderwoman Jill Organ pushed for the denial, saying a change would only encourage additional signs and force policies on everything from the length of the message to brightness, letter height and color.

She was supported by Alderman Brian Ewerdt, who said he's seen the proliferation of signs in other communities, such as Fond du Lac, where trailers with electronic messages have even been rolled out as the city's rules have laxed.

"It's easier to let sleeping dogs lie," he said. "Just let it be."

Numerous aldermen had a problem with one specific sign and mentioned the city property maintenance inspector needed to pay a visit to its owner, Tower Optical, 2130 N. Mayfair Road.

"It's so bright," Alderman Don Birschel said. "If you put the Batman logo on it you could see it in the sky."

Alderman Tim Hanson agreed, calling it "gaudy."

Even Alderman Dennis McBride, who initially brought forth the request for a trial, had problems with Tower Optical's sign.

"The Tower Optical sign is a blight and shouldn't have been put there," he said.

The frequency of message changes was a sticking point for some council members. Hanson suggested every three hours might be appropriate, while Birschel was OK with hourly changes. Meanwhile Alderwoman Linda Nikcevich was the one to suggest allowing a new message every 10 minutes, and Alderwoman Jacqueline Jay said changes every minute would be acceptable during a trial.

At a prior meeting, city staff said they were aware of 11 electronic signs in addition to those that simply post time, temperature or gas prices. Jay said she noticed two businesses on Bluemound Road that weren't on the list and she suspects there are more.

Some aldermen didn't think it could hurt to try more frequent changes.

"We can give a shot to anything in Wauwatosa for 90 days," Alderman Bobby Pantuso said.

Because electronic signs are expensive and likely only benefit certain types of businesses, he didn't see a huge proliferation if rules were loosened.

Nikcevich said even though the trial wouldn't move forward, she intends to bring a discussion to the Community Development Committee about whether the sign ordinance is in line with the times.

How they voted

Opposed to changes: Cheryl Berdan, Don Birschel, Kathleen Causier, Peter Donegan, Brian Ewerdt, Tim Hanson, Michael Walsh and Jill Organ

In favor of the trial: Jacqueline Jay, Dennis McBride, Linda Nikcevich, Bobby Pantuso, Jeff Roznowski and Craig Wilson

Absent: Jason Wilke


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