Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

Billboard on Canyon Lake
Billboard on Canyon Lake
Rapid City Public Libraries Local History archive
October 16, 2011

Billboards in Rapid City

Billboards in Rapid City have had a long history of discussion. On one side are groups advertising using the signs, and on the other are those who view billboards as unnecessary clutter. The City Council is often in the middle of the discussion as they are the ones able to amend the Sign Code.

The sign code received a major revision in 2012, following a moratorium on new signs, the creation of an Ad Hoc Sign Code Revision Task Force, and the threat of legislation restricting the city's ability to make decisions on billboards.

Past Events

A Task Force was formed in 2006 to review electronic signs, message center signs, on-premise signs, and sign credits.

Sign Code

Much of the sign code was repealed following a 2014 court decision.


On March 15, 2010, the Rapid City Council passed a moratorium on permitting new signs off-premise and for changing on-premise signs from static to digital. The intent of the moratorium was to give time for a revision of the sign code. Advertisers objected, but a 90 day moratorium was approved by the council.

Ad Hoc Billboard Task Force

Mayor Alan Hanks sent a memo to the Legal & Finance Committee with his appointees to the Ad Hoc Billboard Task Force. The initial list lacked representatives of the sign industry. A revised list was presented and approved by the council on April 4th, 2010. The task force would end on June 13th, 2010.

The Task Force met on April 23rd and May 14th. A memo with their recommendations was sent to the Legal & Finance Committee and then the City Council. The council discussed the changes on July 6th, but instead of moving forward on an ordinance changing the sign credit system, the recommendations were sent back to the Task Force. The Task Force met for a final time on August 5th. They sent a new recommendation to the council, asking for the creation of a new Sign Code Task Force. The City Council approved the creation of the new task force and placed a new moratorium on signs at the September 7th meeting (the moratorium would be lifted for On-Premise Electronic Message Centers).

Ad Hoc Sign Code Revision Task Force

The Ad Hoc Sign Code Revision Task Force met from November 10th, 2010, to June 1st, 2011. Members were appointed by the mayor at the October 18th meeting of the City Council, with a council representative and support from city staff. Their mission was to review the entire sign code. The Task Force was expected to meet its goal by February 1st, 2011. At the January 3rd, 2011 meeting of the City Council, the decision was made to extend the deadline to April 18th, but the sign moratorium would still expire on February 1st.

Recommendations were presented at the June 6th City Council meeting. The recommendations were pushed back to later sessions of the City Council and the Legal and Finance Committee, in part to give new aldermen a chance to become familiar with the suggestions. The Legal and Finance Committee reviewed the recommendations at their September 14th meeting, with plans to send items to the City Council for a special meeting on September 26th.

Meanwhile, two initiated measures went to the June 6th election and were passed by voters. The first measure banned new digital signs and regulated sizes for static signs. The second measure set a 20-year expiration date on sign credits.


The 2012 South Dakota Legislature dealt with two bills dealing with advertising. House Bill 1200 would have allowed local governments to regulate and control construction of new off-premise signs and also let them ban digital billboard. The bill died in the House Transportation Committee.

Senate Bill 157 went the opposite direction, stopping communities from blocking any advertising. Its passage would have invalidated Rapid City's initiated measure. The bill did pass through the legislature, but Governor Daugaard vetoed it. He felt that it should be the courts, not the legislature, that should make the final decision on the measures.

Sign Code Changes

Early in 2012, the Legal & Finance Committee considered three ordinances changing and replacing the existing sign code. The first ordinance showed up at the February 1st meeting (item 30) and again at the March 14th meeting with the other two (items 22-24). After some changes, they returned at the committee's May 2nd meeting (items 35-37), whereupon they were placed on the agenda for a special May 14th meeting of the City Council. At that meeting, the ordinances were given a first reading and modifications were voted on. The first readings were continued to the May 30th meeting of Legal & Finance (items 21-23) which sent them to the council without recommendation.

The full City Council considered the ordinances on June 4th (items 49-51). The first reading initially failed, but after further discussion all three passed. The three ordinances passed a second reading on June 18th, becoming chapter 15.28, 15.29, and 15.30 of the Rapid City Municipal Code.


In April 2011, prior to the ban on new digital billboards, Lamar Advertising submitted applications for converting six traditional signs to digital billboards. The applications were denied on account of a conditional use permit being required. Lamar argued that the permits were not required under the sign code, but a hearing with the city still denied the applications. Lamar then filed a lawsuit to resolve the issue. The lawsuit eventually ended up before the South Dakota Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Lamar Advertising on October 31st, 2012.

Scenic Rapid City asked Lamar not to go forward with the digital signs, but the company stated it would convert the signs.

Lamar vs. City of Rapid City (2014) resulted in Judge Jeffrey Viken finding several parts of the sign code were invalid under South Dakota law.

Lamar has also filed a suit in federal court, seeking $10 million in lost revenue under Rapid City's sign code.

In March 2016, Rapid City reached a settlement with Lamar Advertising. Among the conditions, Rapid City would pay $100,000, the ban on digital billboards would be repealed, and the distance between signs would be decreased.

Epic Outdoor Advertising filed a lawsuit of their own in December 2012. The lawsuit opposes the sign credit system, as the credits are no longer useable. Furthermore, Epic believes Rapid City violated state and federal law with the changes to the sign code.

More Information

Further reading on the billboard issue in news stories and government documents can be found in the archive.

Photos of billboards used throughout Rapid City's history can be found in the Knowledge Network's Local History archive. Alongside the photographs are scans of articles about a 2002 revision of the sign code.


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