Some wonder if it's a wise investment, if it'll set a potentially bad precedent, or if it will distract motorists and lead to accidents.

    Members of the city Community Development Committee this week voted to send a requested zoning change for the Crookston Public Library to the Planning Commission, which would either deny the request or recommend that the Crookston City Council approve it.

    But that doesn't mean all of the committee members, city council members and city officials are 100 percent behind the Friends of the Library's plans to purchase a digital LED crawler sign on the library property that would announce library events and, likely, various community events as well. There's a concern shared by some that erecting the sign on the property, near the intersection of Robert and Ash streets, would distract motorists and could lead to accidents. Others wonder if the 3-foot by 7 1/2 foot sign is the wisest investment of Friends of the Library dollars.

    After a fairly lengthy discussion, committee members unanimously referred the matter to the Planning Commission, but they'd definitely like to hear more about the sign project before it officially becomes a reality.
    The City of Crookston has to initiate the request for the necessary zoning change, from the current "R-2" to "Institutional," because, Community Development Director Mike MacDonald explained, the city owns the library property and the library is essentially a tenant. An electronic, reader-board sign is prohibited in an R-2 zoning district.

    Council member Frank Lindgren, who sits on the Library Board, said the Friends of the Library each year identify a project for the library and raise funds to make the project a reality. In the past, he said, the Friends of the Library has donated things like furniture. "This time, they think this sign would be a good addition to the library," Lindgren said.

    For years, the library has hosted various enrichment, education and arts programs, but those programs have ramped up in number significantly since Minnesota voters approved the Legacy Amendment in 2008. Now, with millions of dollars being dispersed for various arts activities across the state, the Crookston Public Library has a much busier schedule than usual.

    The problem, Lindgren said, is that scheduling various programs is somewhat rigid because many of the programs are scheduled at the other libraries in the Lake Agassiz Regional Library system, too. So, whether the problem is inconvenient times or a simple lack of awareness on the public's part that the programs are taking place at the local library, Lindgren said the lack of attendance is a problem. If the people who decide how the Legacy dollars are dispersed see the lack of numbers at the Crookston Library, he said, the money would likely be funneled elsewhere.

    But, Lindgren stressed, that doesn't mean the Friends of the Library has identified the sign project simply to boost attendance at library events made possibly by Legacy funding. "They think the sign would be a good thing, something that would add to the library, add to that intersection, and be a community asset," he said.

    Mayor Dave Genereux said he questions the library's "need to advertise like this." The city doesn't have a digital sign at city hall promoting what's happening at city hall, he added, voicing a concern about the costs of maintaining the sign and keeping it on. In that vein, the digital reader-board sign at Crookston High School - which was shut off years ago to save money - was mentioned, but council member Wayne Melbye, who has a digital sign at Ampride, said current LED technology has greatly reduced the costs to operate them.

    Another concern involves precedent. "What if we do this and then the theater wants a digital sign?" council member Dana Johnson wondered. “Who else will want one?”

    Then there's the location issue and the sign being a distraction at the intersection. To that, while in one breath MacDonald said that the zoning ordinance doesn't allow a specific sign location to be dictated, in the next breath he mentioned the fact that the city owns the property, meaning the city would have input on the sign's exact location.

    "I don't like it right by the intersection with all the traffic and all the pedestrians and kids on bikes," council member Bob Quanrud said. "But if it's closer to the building, I don't have a problem with it."

    Council member Keith Mykleseth said the city needs to find a balance in how it approaches the situation. The city is constantly urging the library to be creative and do more things, he said, and now Legacy dollars are helping to make that possible. "So, do we want to hinder their efforts?" he said. "There's a lot of money coming through for the arts and they're trying to capitalize on that and justify the funds coming to them. ...They're paying for it, they're a service club trying to help the community."

    MacDonald and Building Inspector Matt Johnson, who passed around a digital rendering of what the sign might look like, agreed that it looks pretty nice and isn't exactly huge. MacDonald said it would have to be out of the right-of-way, which by default keeps it somewhat away from the intersection, while still in view of passers-by.
Talk more later
    Eventually, everyone agreed that the council will have an opportunity later to approve or reject the sign project, assuming the Planning Commission OKs it, so they referred the zoning change request to the commission, which, MacDonald said, will take up the issue in November.

    "This is a billboard opportunity to promote all kinds of community events, I would think, and be a nice little improvement," Melbye said. "Have you been to Grand Forks or Fargo? These signs are everywhere."

    "But not without some controversy in those cities," MacDonald interjected.