Rapid City officials are considering their next legal step following a federal court decision that struck down a voter-approved ban on new digital billboards located away from business premises in Rapid City.
There are only eight off-site digital billboards in the city, compared to many more owned by private businesses on their own store property. But voters wanted to keep those off-premises digital signs from proliferating. They approved the ban by a two-to-one margin.
Rapid City has experienced the digital-billboard battle like few other places in South Dakota.
"The concern with digital is that it's a short step from digital to having a TV screen on the side of the road," Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker said.
The distraction affects both aesthetics and traffic safety, Kooiker says. City voters agreed in 2011, placing a ban on new digital billboards that did not affect those already in place and likely to be added on the premises of businesses. Those on-premise billboards are all over town, but are legal under building permit rules.
The digital provisions voters approved with other billboard regulations set a cap on digital off-site billboards for rent across the city at just the eight signs that existed when the vote took place. But a federal judge overturned the sign limit.
"He struck down that part of the ordinance, but he did permit us to regulate signs and regulate digital billboards," Kooiker said. "And those billboard regulations are still in effect."
The court decision left unsettled the issue of spacing restrictions on all billboards included in voter-approved ordinance for further legal arguments. Kooiker said city officials and lawyers for and representing the city are preparing for that.
But he celebrates the fact that the ruling by Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Jeffrey Viken of Rapid City affirmed city billboard regulations that were also challenged on their constitutional basis, including free-speech issues.
Kooiker and other city officials say it isn't just a Rapid City issue. Billboard regulation has statewide impacts.
"It's going to affect other cities, particularly Sioux Falls, who will be impacted by the precedent set in this case," Kooiker said.
City officials haven't decided yet whether to appeal the court ruling on the ban on more off-premises digital bilboards in Rapid City. But they say existing restriction will limit how many new digital billboards can be placed in the future anyway.