A petition with over 4,000 signatures submitted by a coalition of businesses called Keep Round Rock Safe calls for the installation of up to 12 new electronic billboards along highways in the city.
City code prohibits the installation of any new billboards to “enhance the physical appearance of the community.”
The petition asks for an amendment to the city’s charter to allow billboards that prioritize public safety, public service and advertising to help increase the local economy and to help protect residents’ health, safety and welfare. If the signatures in the petition are verified, residents will see the issue on their May ballot.
City officials said they are in the process of verifying the signatures but have no desire to allow any new billboards in Round Rock. For the petition to be put on the ballot, 3,189 signatures — or 5% of registered voters — are needed, said city spokesperson Sara Bustilloz.
Officials said they met with Media Choice, an advertising company that has been pushing for new billboards since 2022 but has yet to convince the city to remove its signage ban. Bustilloz said the city has not received comments from businesses or residents wanting more billboards.
Craig Holmes, a spokesperson for Keep Round Rock Safe, said the billboards can help small businesses reach new customers. According to the coalition, the billboards will help bring $225 million in revenue to businesses, based on an economic analysis from the Perryman Group, an economic think-tank.
Holmes said that even if the city does not see the benefits billboards can provide, residents will. If voters approve, residents would only see new billboards along Interstate 35 and Texas 45.
He said the billboards would allow businesses to advertise but also could be used by the city for emergency messaging, such as Amber alerts.
“It is surprising and disappointing that the city is not interested in helping the small business community prosper and is depriving police and emergency personnel from an extremely effective and free tool to use,” Holmes said.
City officials said signs for public safety purposes are already exempt from the code as well as any other notices required by federal, state or local law. They said that in the state, Amber and silver alerts are delivered to cell phones in the area. Bustilloz said it is concerning that the petition makes no requirement that the signs promote businesses in the city.
Holmes said that since the city allows signs at Kalahari Resorts and Dell Diamond, it should allow the 12 new billboards.
The signs at Kalahari Resorts and Dell Diamond are allowed, Bustilloz said, because they are on-site and promote the businesses’ operations.
The city defines billboards as “a large outdoor board for displaying advertisements which promote or advertised commodities or services available at a location other than where the sign is located.”
The billboards proposed by the coalition would sell advertising space to third parties and thus would not be allowed, according to the city code.
City officials said the new billboards would ruin the city’s “Scenic City” designation given by the Scenic Texas nonprofit. They said the criteria for the designation include on-premises sign regulation and the prohibition of new billboards.
Bustilloz said the purpose of the city’s regulation is to “protect and enhance the physical appearance of the community in a lawful manner by providing standards … and satisfying the community’s desire for signs that are attractive.”
Keep Round Rock Safe officials say that by limiting billboards to highways, it respects the city’s “serene and scenic areas and neighborhoods.”
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This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Round Rock group wants 12 new billboards. Will it be on May ballot?