City of Round Rock's response to PAC’s petition regarding electronic billboards
The City of Round Rock has received reports that residents were approached during the November election cycle with a petition for a charter amendment associated with the “Keep Round Rock Safe” Political Action Committee (PAC). Residents have further reported that, in the following weeks, they have received mailed petitions and have been approached at their homes by canvassers. The caption on the petition says the group seeks to amend Article 14 of the City’s Home Rule Charter to allow “a maximum of twelve (12) new privately-owned, operated, and funded freestanding off-premise double-faced electronic signs” along IH-35 and SH-45 in the City of Round Rock and its extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ). The petition and communication being disseminated relating to electronic billboards has a strong focus on public safety. The City of Round Rock has compiled the following list of questions and answers to provide clarification on this matter.
Do canvassers require a permit from the City of Round Rock?
Canvassing is considered different from soliciting or peddling by City ordinance and does not require an identification card. However, it is still unlawful for a canvasser to remain on private property where there is a visible “no soliciting” sign.
Has Round Rock been sending text messages or other communication regarding Electronic Message Center signs, also known as EMC billboards or electronic billboards?
The City of Round Rock has been contacted multiple times by residents regarding a months-long campaign lobbying the public to express their desire for electronic billboards to the City Council. The City works hard to make it clear when official communication is coming from the City or an authorized third party.
On Aug. 23, 2023, the City of Round Rock put out information via social media that messaging on this topic was being distributed privately and the City was in no way involved.
Messages over the summer were self-identified as coming from “WAB Research.” More recently, communication has been coming from “Keep Round Rock Safe PAC,” with notice that petitions would begin to be mailed to members of the community. It is the City’s understanding that these campaigns have been coordinated through MediaChoice, “a rapidly growing billboard advertising company located in Austin, Texas that was founded in 1997.”
Has the City of Round Rock been in contact with MediaChoice?
Yes. MediaChoice solicited individual meetings with the Mayor and other City officials as early as 2022. At this time, MediaChoice expressed a desire to construct multiple new electronic billboards along IH-35 and SH-45.
The topic of new electronic billboards was discussed in general at the City Council Retreat in January of 2023. No desire was expressed by the Round Rock City Council to reverse the prohibition of off-premises signs or billboards. In early 2023, MediaChoice increased lobbying of both Council and the public and began putting greater emphasis on the public safety and economic impacts of electronic billboards on the general public.
A lack of desire for staff to propose changes was reaffirmed at the City Council retreat in July.
What are “EMC signs?”
EMC signs are Electronic Message Center signs. EMCs are currently regulated by the Sign Code and disallowed in many forms. It is important to note that Section 8-81. – Prohibited signs supersedes EMC regulation throughout the rest of the sign code.
For clarity, EMC signs are a technology, billboards are a type of sign, and off-premises signs are a type of communication. These distinctions are complicated, but important for the regulation of signs in Round Rock.
The code does not allow for “off-premises signs unless otherwise specifically permitted by this chapter” and also has a prohibition on “billboard signs.” Freestanding EMCs are allowed as long as they comply with Section 8-78 – Freestanding sign standards (g).
Are electronic billboard signs currently allowed in Round Rock?
No new billboards are being permitted in the City of Round Rock as they are prohibited.
On Dec. 5, 2013, an “Agreement to Eliminate Non-Conforming Billboards with Lamar Advantage Holding Company.” In this agreement, “the City and Lamar have reached an agreement whereby Lamar will remove two existing non-conforming billboards in exchange for the City permitting Lamar to upgrade one existing billboard to a digital display.” Before this agreement, Lamar owned three non-conforming billboards, and afterward only one EMC billboard remained on southbound IH-35.
Why are privately-owned electronic billboards that display off-premises advertising not allowed?
Offsite advertising, whether electronic or not, is regulated by ARTICLE IX – SIGNS of the City of Round Rock ZONING AND DEVELOPMENT CODE. The purpose for such regulation is laid out in Section. 8-70 – Purpose. More specifically:
- (2) To protect and enhance the physical appearance of the community in a lawful manner by:
- a. Providing standards for the appropriate design, scale and placement of signs;
- b. Satisfying the community’s desires for signs that are attractive.
What systems are already in place to alert the public about emergencies?
The petition and communication being disseminated relating to electronic billboards has a strong focus on public safety.
Article IX – SIGNS, Section 8-72(a)(2) already exempts “Any public purpose/safety sign, including regulatory signs, and any other notice or warning required by federal, state or local law, regulation or resolution.” This allows for Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT)-controlled electronic signs along IH-35 that currently display information relating to AMBER Alerts, Silver Alerts and other public safety messages important to motorists along IH-35.
Furthermore, Texas is part of the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS) which features a national Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system that delivers qualified WEA alerts, such as AMBER Alerts directly to capable cellphones in specific geographic areas. These alerts have a unique sound and vibration so that all recipients, including those with disabilities, receive notification.
Round Rock also participates in “Warn Central Texas” through the Capital Area Council of Governments to allow residents, business owners and other interested parties to sign up for geographically-specific alerts via telephone and text directly from government agencies in the event of a local emergency.
Round Rock also uses social media, local and national news media, and the City’s website to broadly distribute information in the event of an emergency.
Would adding electronic billboards impact Round Rock’s “Scenic City” designation?
Round Rock is a gold-rated “Scenic City” through Scenic Texas’ Scenic City Certification Program. Two components of the grading criteria for this certification are “on-premise sign regulation” and “prohibition of new billboards.”