Cedar Rapids: No More New Billboards...for 180 Days

By Rick Smith, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — 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 city's Community Development director, laid out a proposal for the council last night to put in place 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 last night's council agenda because the City Planning Commission had recommended one earlier this month and the city's Board of Adjustment has expressed concerns about the proliferation of billboards.

Corbett, though, said his push to enact the moratorium sidestepped the council's committee process, and so he and the council referred the matter to the council's Development Committee for its recommendation first. The council will vote on the matter now 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 city's commercial districts to discuss the city's sign ordinance.

Last night, the council also temporarily blocked the Board of Adjustment's decision on a 3-2 vote last week to grant a zoning variance to allow a new 50-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 council's 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 Center's board of directors, though, decided against the MediaQuest billboard and the company's $200,000 offer to put it on Nature Center property after some on the Nature Center's board as well as Mayor Corbett spoke out against a billboard on that section of highway. MediaQuest then went next door to the Slumberland site and secured a special variance to allow the sign to Corbett's surprise.

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