Dependable Erection

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Billboard hoopla

In all the discussion that's been ongoing this year about the billboard industry's request to waive or amend existing law prohibiting upgrades to existing billboards, one thing has been lacking: what's in it for the citizens of Durham City and County? What are we going to get out of the deal?

According to an email circulating on various listservs, Tom Miller has documented that the city and county collect something like $2,400/year total from all the billboards in the area. What is that going to go up to with the new billboards? How many new schools are we going to be able to build with this additional revenue? How many layoffs will be avoided?

As far as i can tell, the answers are none, and none, respectively.

So, what's in it for us?

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2 Comments:

  • Durham has problems both with quality of life issues and perceived quality of life issues. If you came to a new town and were assaulted by energy-wasting, light-polluting, trashy-looking electronic billboards, would you say "Yeah! This is where I want to be!"?

    By OpenID mrsdependable, at 3:30 PM  

  • While a couple of people in the Friends of Durham/Chamber of Commerce camp have written letters saying bright digital billboards that flash ads 24/7 are OK with them, there's still no compelling reason to overturn Durham's ban on electronic billboards.

    And, as Saturday's N&O points out, there are plenty of compelling reasons not to...

    * Fairway's billboards now produce about $2,600 in county tax revenue; switching some to digital "would still not generate significant revenue"

    * Local government cannot require the signs to carry public-service messages

    * Digital billboards could be found to violate the federal Highway Beautification Act

    * Allowing digital billboards while safety studies are pending could expose Durham to liability for accidents

    * Full sunlight reaches about 6,500 "nits," a measure of direct light; a digital billboard can reach 10,000 nits;

    * Anything that distracts a driver's eyes from the road for more than two seconds, in an urban environment, significantly increases the chances of a wreck.

    The full article is below.

    have a good weekend,
    John

    ****

    Planner: Proceed with caution on billboard issue
    Department official suggests delaying decision on billboard rules until more is known about safety of digital signs
    By Jim Wise, Durham News (N&O), 7 Feb 2009

    Durham should be careful about changing its rules to let electronic billboards go up, the city-county planning department said this week.

    "This is a very complicated regulatory arena," planner Julia Mullen told the Joint City-County Planning Committee Wednesday.

    That committee is composed of city council members, county commissioners, the Durham Planning Commission chairman and the city-county planning director.

    Mullen reported on the city's current ordinance and concerns raised by highway signs that can outshine the sun and change their messages in a matter of seconds.

    Among those concerns are the signs' effect on highway safety. Some research indicates that electronic -- or "digital" -- billboards are a traffic hazard, she said, and several more studies are under way.

    "These safety studies are pending, and waiting for the outcomes is advisable," Mullen said.

    Last year, Fairway Outdoor Advertising, which owns 46 of the 89 "permitted" billboards in Durham County, asked that it be allowed it to move some of its signs, upgrade some and convert some to digital operation.

    The company withdrew its request after the City-County Planning Committee suggested it test public opinion first.

    Fairway is doing just that, said Durham attorney Patrick Byker, who represents the company.

    "Talking to a wide range of community groups to find what their input is, and that's why we haven't submitted something formally," he said.

    "We're enjoying getting input from our citizens, and we're looking forward to submitting something later this spring."

    Durham's present ordinance, in effect, outlaws billboards in most locations. Those billboards that do stand along Durham's roads went up before the ban took effect in 1984.

    Assistant City Attorney Karen Sindelar said last week that amending the law to grant Fairway's wishes could essentially re-legalize billboards, undoing the ordinance Durham has spent more than $1 million defending against billboard-industry lawsuits.

    Legal effects were not part of Mullen's presentation. Rather, she confined it to digital billboards.

    "We do anticipate digital billboards would be part of any text amendment that's proposed," she said; and those have raised the most objections in the neighborhood e-mail conversations about any ordinance change.

    Mullen said the planning department had consulted information from the American Planning Association, the UNC Highway Safety Research Center, the nonprofit Scenic America, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, Fairway, news articles and the state Department of Transportation.

    Among the planning report's points:

    * Fairway's billboards now produce about $2,600 in county tax revenue; switching some to digital "would still not generate significant revenue"

    * Local government cannot require the signs to carry public-service messages

    * Changing the ordinance could be construed by some citizens as an inappropriate endorsement of products or services such as alcohol and "adult" merchandise

    * Digital billboards could be found to violate the federal Highway Beautification Act

    * Allowing digital billboards while safety studies are pending could expose Durham to liability for accidents

    * Full sunlight reaches about 6,500 "nits," a measure of direct light; a digital billboard can reach 10,000 nits;

    * Anything that distracts a driver's eyes from the road for more than two seconds, in an urban environment, significantly increases the chances of a wreck.

    Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, the planning committee's chairwoman, indicated Fairway would have an opportunity to make its case if it submits a formal request.

    "That would be great," Byker said.

    Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Cary and Morrisville have billboard ordinances similar to Durham's, but committee members said several other North Carolina cities allow digital billboards, among them Charlotte, Greensboro, Asheville and Wilmington.

    Los Angeles, Mullen said, imposed a three-month moratorium on billboards in December in response to angered residents; and a statewide two-year moratorium, recognizing safety concerns, is pending in the California legislature.

    By Blogger John, at 8:30 AM  

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