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Seattle suburbs considering digital billboards; Grand Rapids suburb confirms ban

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the King County (Wash.) Council is scheduled to vote next week on a controversial ordinance that would allow digital billboards in suburban areas.

The legislation’s sponsor, Councilmember Larry Phillips, said the billboards would be a public-safety benefit, since the bill would require a company with a digital billboard to display emergency messages such as Amber alerts and flood warnings.

The measure would allow the conversion of existing billboards to digital ones in urban, unincorporated areas. That currently applies to 19 large, double-sided signs, which are owned by national billboard giant Clear Channel Outdoor. The bill would not change the number of signs in the county.

Texas-based Clear Channel had approached King County about changing the billboard code, which only allows standard paste and paint jobs. The company deemed those methods as “antiquated.”

But Phillips said councilmembers were drawn to the public benefit of requiring Clear Channel to display emergency signs when needed. “There’s no financial gain to King County,” he said.

In contrast to the animated billboards along Interstate 5 in South King and Pierce counties, King County’s measure would limit digital signs to static images. Each image would have to be displayed for at least eight seconds before changing to another image.

Animation, flashing and blinking lights, and “optical illusions” would not be allowed.

Meanwhile, according to the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press, the City Commission of the Grand Rapids suburb of Walker affirmed its position that digital billboards are not allowed under zoning rules by passing an ordinance amendment making it more clear that digital billboards are prohibited in the city.

According to the paper, the city is still a party in a federal district court lawsuit brought by Lamar Advertising Co., which sued last year after city officials denied its permit applications to convert a pair of static billboards to digital.

For more on the subject, visit our Digital Billboards research center.