Dependable Erection

Monday, August 09, 2010

751 decision tonight? Billboards on the agenda?

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth Durham Board of County Commissioners meets tonight with two, count 'em two, pressing issues on the agenda, although one might get dropped.

First up, a continuation of the hearing begun 2 weeks ago regarding the rezoning application for the proposed 751 South development project down near Jordan Lake. Since we last checked in with the Commissioners, County Attorney Lowell "Encyclopedia Brown" Siler has received his answer from the NC Attorney General's office regarding the legal grounds the state believes it has to revoke the NCDOT's acceptance of a land easement from the developer, Southern Durham Development, Inc. The 41 foot wide strip of land was just wide enough to push the boundaries of the property far enough away from that of many of the signatories to a protest petition against the rezoning, which would have had the effect of invalidating the petition.

Of interest to note in this process is that one of SDD's attorneys, Patrick Byker of Keystone Kops law firm K&L Gates, was quoted by NCDOT officials who originally accepted the easement as saying the gift was made to "show good faith." Byker's client, Alex Mitchell, was subsequently quoted by area reporters as saying the easement was given specifically to invalidate the petition. It's precisely this action by Byker that has a number of local residents, according to some rumors we're hearing, considering filing complaints with the NC Bar Association. Stay tuned for developments on that, which i'm sure will be lots of fun if they turn out to be true.

Anyway, it's up to Siler to render an opinion on whether or not NCDOT's revocation of the easement passes muster. Planning Department Director Steve Medlin can then accept Siler's reasoning or, as i understand it, issue an independent judgment on the validity of the protest petition. Either way, expect to hear from one or the other party tomorrow night that further legal action is being prepared.

Also on the agenda, maybe, is the proposed amendments to Durham's Uniform Development Ordinance to make billboards legal again, and invite new hi tech digital billboards into the county. Fresh on their stinging 7-0 rebuke at the hands of the City Council last Monday, though, Fairway Outdoor Advertising and their attorney, Patrick Byker of K&L Gates (dejá vu, anyone?) have asked for a one month delay in having the BoCC consider the billboard issue. Byker was quoted by local media as saying the request was based out of concern for the Commissioners having to deal with too many difficult issues in one night.

I give about as much credence to that as i do to his statement about "showing good faith" with NCDOT, to be honest.

The fun and games kick off at 7 pm at the County Commissioners chambers in the Old Courthouse, 200 East Main.

Or you can stay home, make a big bucket of popcorn, and watch proceedings on Time Warner Cable channel 8. Let's hope Chair Michael Page watched Mayor Bill Bell manage the billboard issue at last week's Council meeting. Another fiasco like the BoCC's meeting two weeks ago and Durham might start to develop a reputation, if you know what i mean.

Get all the background you need from Samiha Khanna at the Indy's Triangulator blog; Jim Wise at the N&O's Bull's Eye blog; Ray Gronberg at the Herald Sun; and Kevin and Rob at BCR. Search on 751 or billboards when you get to their sites.

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  • folks,

    Out-of-town advertisers got an alert this week to pack tonight's County Commissioner's hearing. The Commissioners need to hear from us.

    Please send an email asking Commissioners to "please vote tonight for Durham's current billboard ordinance."

    Email a short/positive note TO:

    And come to the Durham County Courthouse tonight at 7pm. Speakers at the City Council meeting clearly had an impact. (FYI, billboards are before 751-South on tonight's agenda.)

    The billboard industry has dragged this out for two years. Enough is enough, we need closure.

    with many many thanks,
    John Schelp

    By Blogger John, at 7:55 AM  

  • Here's more background...

    * Fairway admitted they have no employees from Durham on its staff. None. And they've hired no staff in local offices over the past five years.

    * Why is a Raleigh-based billboard company (whose manager lives in Wake County) targeting Durham County -- instead of starting with Wake?

    * Local nonprofits reported no increases in client referrals or donations while their ads were posted on Fairway billboards (per Council member during hearing).

    * Fairway employees (who do not live in Durham) and proponents (who do not live in Durham) do not vote in Durham. Durham residents, who do vote in Durham, overwhelmingly support the current ordinance.

    * The County is just starting a new Fiscal Year, with a new budget. So, if the measure passes, the County would need to find funds elsewhere in the budget. This might affect funding for schools, sheriff and other important County services. The last thing we need to do is shift away funds to implement and enforce the billboard measure.

    * Billboard lobbyists argued that only by supporting their measure would we able to clean up billboards in Durham. Actually, our current UDO specifically states: "Permanent signs shall be maintained in good condition at all times and shall be kept free of cracked or peeling paint, missing or damaged sign panels or supports, and weeds, grass or vegetation that obscures the view of the sign message."

    * While industry talks a lot about PSAs for non-profits, you don't see them in areas with digital billboards. And if the ordinance were to pass, we'd be unable to enforce Fairway's assertion to provide PSAs. Fairway (or subsequent managers) could decide not to provide PSAs -- and we wouldn't be able to do anything about it.

    * Local businesses are most likely to be supported by locals (who are most effectively reached through local advertising in local press and media).

    * Industry lawyers continue to tell officials half-truths when they say their measure will allow them to move billboards away from homes. They neglect to say the measure (which they wrote) allows industry to leave billboards right where they are -- next to homes, churches, parks, schools and the R. Kelly Bryant Bridge.

    * The billboard industry has exaggerated its support. During Council's hearing, the City Manager said that, contrary to Fairway's assertions, the Durham Police Department does not have a position on digital billboards.

    * In addition, turns out that City-wide Partners Against Crime do not support industry's measure (a facilitator later apologized on listservs) and the Museum of Life & Science rescinded its letter supporting digital billboards. (We may learn of another nonprofit rescinding its support later this week.)

    * Fairway's most recent op-ed claims "hundreds" of supporters (08/04/10 Herald). The fact is Council members received nine letters, and only seven emails, pushing for digital billboards. Industry failed to back up its claim for "hundreds" of supporters at the Council hearing.

    * Council members received no messages of support from industry's own billboard, which drove traffic to a website for people to offer support. None.

    * Unanimous support for current ordinance by City Council, planning staff and Planning Commission. County Commissioners who support Fairway's measure will face Durham voters -- not voters in Raleigh and Greensboro. (Fairway headquarters must be wondering if all the money they spent on lawyers and lobbyists was worth it.)

    * Billboards display 24/7, while Amber/Silver alerts are rare. Police departments are already trying to opt out of billboard alerts elsewhere.

    * Commissioners have received more 1000 emails supporting Durham's billboard ordinance. Hard to recall the last time officials have seen 1000 emails agreeing on a controversial issue in Durham.

    By Blogger John, at 8:04 AM  

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