By Moses Leos III
They are flashy, bright and generate an ample advertising base for any business.
Yet, the Buda City Council also realizes how much an Electronic Reader Board (ERB) can become more of a distraction than an asset.
That is why at the June 2 City Council Meeting, the city unanimously approved amendments to Chapter 10.4 of the city sign ordinance to include and restrict ERBs.
The catalyst for amending the sign ordinance occured in March, when Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) informed the city they would no longer hang event banners on power lines.
PEC said placing the banners on power lines was a hazard to their workers, along with the possibility of disrupting service. New Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) requirements regarding event banners would have forced PEC to use six workers to put up a banner.
TxDOT called for an increase in safety warning vehicles. The move would have taken Buda police cars off the beat to block traffic for PEC crews.
As a result, PEC offered the city $25,000 in compensation to replace event banners. On February 5, the city council approved the motion to place an ERB at the corner of Old San Antonio Road and Loop 4.
It wasn’t until after the ERB was built the city realized it was breaking its own ordinance.
Up until June 2, ERBs were prohibited within city limits.
“It was a matter of putting the cart before the horse,” said Mayor Todd Ruge.
Plans were in the works to amend the ordinance to include the city’s new ERB. However, the council struggled to find a way to make their sign legal, yet still leave room for future ERB’s to be built.
“We changed the ordinance to put us in compliance, but it wouldn’t be fair to make an ordinance for only one sign,” Ruge said.
The solution: Create an overlay limiting the construction of ERBs to the IH-35 corridor.
ERB’s along the corridor must also be free standing. Businesses cannot erect monument style ERBs.
“We did not want [ERBs] to be up in the air and causing a distraction,” Ruge said. “We want the signs to enhance and promote a business. We want to make the signs nice and neat; to make it so they are all the same size.”
The issue of ensuring future ERBs do not cause an influx in light pollution was also taken upon by the council.
Future ERBs must have signs no brighter than 5,000 NIT during daylight hours and 500 NITs during the evening.
The boards shall not display a solid white background, nor can they include animation or flashing/multimedia video. Requirements force boards to have static images display at a rate of six seconds per image, and must have public service announcements 25 percent of the time over a 15-minute period.
Fears of repeating the image display boards in larger cities, such as San Antonio, caused the council to limit what is displayed on the boards.
“We did not want the signs to be too busy,” Ruge said.
Buda also has an option for businesses that wish to have ERB’s outside of the IH-35 corridor. However, the signs must meet the aforementioned criteria, along with approval from the council and zoning board to ensure the sign does not take away or interfere with other businesses.
Currently, the city has not received any requests from businesses regarding ERBs. According to Ruge, the signs are cost prohibitive.
“ERBs are a large investment for smaller businesses,” Ruge said. “I would think a large retail chain or a nightclub would prefer to build them. The whole premise is information and drawing people to a business.”
In the future, council may address the issue of businesses asking for larger signs.
“Our sign is not big, so I would not be surprised in people asking for bigger signs,” Ruge said. “That’s why we have a variance system they can go through. It is not out of the possibility for there to be more signs, but there is a procedure they must go through.”
Yet, setting a precedent will cause Ruge and the council to exercise caution in the future.
“The issue with variance is we would set the basis for precedence,” he said. “If you let one person have a sign that is a little bigger and give them a variance, the next person will want a larger sign as well. It is walking a fine line.”
The new law concerning Electronic Reader Boards dictate the signs must be:
• 350 feet away from a property with any residential zoning designation;
• 750 feet away from historic property, such as landmarks;
• No more than one per lot;
• No off-premise signs can be converted to ERBs.
• In addition, ERBs within the overlay district cannot reflect light into a property, nor can they be constructed larger than twelve square feet per sign face; a size similar to the city’s own ERB.