Can billboards save Pequot Lakes?

In Pequot Lakes, beauty is going to take a back seat to business and, somewhere, Lady Bird Johnson is rolling over in her grave.

There was a time when billboards were a blight on the landscape. Ahead of her time, the then First Lady used her bully pulpit to enact the Federal Highway Beautification Act of 1965. To the extent we no longer have a billboard assault, it’s because of her.

This is frustrating the people of Pequot Lakes because officials have learned the law bans billboards on trunk highways, like the new four-lane stretch of Highway 371, except in areas zoned industrial or commercial.

It’s a problem because business in town is down, according to the Brainerd Dispatch, and the solution is billboards, or so they think.

Eventually, there’ll be billboards along the highway; it’s only a matter of how long it will take to change the zoning along the highway.

That plan has three parts:

• Erect a static community sign on city property on the highway as soon as possible. This would welcome people to the community and could be done quickly.

• Develop a long-term plan to erect an additional electronic sign (allowing business advertising) on city property on the highway.

• Develop a long-term plan to erect a permanent static community sign at the intersection of Highway 371 and South Patriot Avenue (on what some call mesa or plateau of land).

Fundraising would occur to pay for the static community sign when firm cost estimates were obtained.

The fear is that once the billboards go up, private landowners will also want to rent out their property to billboard companies and, there you are: the land of tacky. Lady Bird figured that out once.

The situation presents the dilemma that has prevented improvements in the road north over the years. Improve the ability of people to get somewhere quickly, and downtowns inevitably get bypassed.