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Council approves digital billboard; mayor to veto

Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede said he plans to veto the city council's passage Wednesday of an amendment that would allow billboard advertising on a portion of West Circle Drive.

The council voted 5-1 to approve the amendment of a 15-year-old ordinance prohibiting billboard advertising on the north-south, four-lane road at the west edge of the city. The lone no vote came from Ed Hruska, who was on the city council in 1997 when it unanimously voted to keep West Circle Drive and East Circle Drive free from advertising billboards.

A request to amend the ordinance came earlier this year from Fairway Outdoor Advertising, which wants to put up 12-by-24-foot digital billboard on the west side of West Circle Drive, just north of U.S. 14. It would be the company's sixth digital billboard in Rochester.

Before the council voted on the amendment, Brede said, back when the ordinance was passed, the city's land-use plan showed West Circle Drive as an industrial and commercial corridor. Still, the council wanted to maintain it as billboard-free, he said.

"I see no reason to change a well-thought-out, thoroughly discussed decision made back then," Brede said.


Hruska said allowing the billboards would create a "slippery slope" situation for the city's Circle Drives.

"Once you say this one exception makes sense, it's not long before you're saying the next exception makes sense, and the next one makes sense," he said.

However, Fairway has pledged to remove 10 of its double-faced, 5-by-10-foot billboards in the downtown area if it is allowed to put up the one digital sign on West Circle Drive, and that strikes several council members as a good deal for the city.

"I can't disagree with a lot of what the mayor is saying," said council member Michael Wojcik, who first suggested the city work out a compromise with Fairway. "But I would never vote to allow signs out there without getting something I think is a value for the community in return."

Interim President Randy Staver agreed and said the amendment language is written narrowly enough to protect the rest of West Circle Drive. In addition, Staver pointed out the digital signs can and have, at least in one recent instance, been used by emergency operations personnel to warn drivers of severe weather conditions.

Brede has five days, excluding Sunday, to veto the council's action, according to the city charter. If he does, the ordinance will go back to the council during its Feb. 4 meeting for reconsideration. It would take a super majority vote — in this case, 5-1 — to override the veto.

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