Thursday, March 31, 2011

Scenic Rapid City collects enough signatures for billboard vote

It appears as though Rapid City, SD voters who go to the polls at the June 7 municipal election will have the chance to limit new billboards in their community.

The new Scenic Rapid City has been working hard to collect enough signatures to trigger the vote, and they were able to gather over 3,000 verified signatures, according to city officials. 

The proposal would ban new digital billboards, following a trend that has included cities such as Denver, Houston, St. Louis and Indianapolis.  It would also double the required distance between new and existing billboards to 2,000 feet and fix their maximum size at 250 square feet.

A second proposal would establish a 20-year expiration date on sign credits, the city's currency for new billboards. City ordinance now grants one sign credit for every billboard taken down and requires two sign credits to be surrendered for every new billboard that goes up.

No branding on the Seattle skyline for now

A proposal to allow corporate signage at the tops of Seattle's downtown office buildings has been tabled for at least a year.

Photo by United States Geological Survey
The idea, which proponents had hoped would pass quickly and with little public scrutiny, instead sparked a series of heated public gatherings where architects, designers and average citizens came out vociferously against the proposal.

Now, the editorial board at the Seattle Times says the idea should be dropped for good:
Seattle's skyline, featuring the Space Needle and tall buildings reflecting shimmery waters of Puget Sound, looks grand as it is. The council should drop this idea permanently.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Scenic Pittsburgh sues to have billboard removed

Scenic Pittsburgh has filed a lawsuit demanding that a partially completed electronic billboard atop the city's downtown transportation center be taken down.  The sign started to go up in 2008 before the city revoked the permit when it was revealed that the public process for granting variances had been subverted.

The revelations that a Lamar Outdoor executive had given gifts to Pat Ford, then executive director of the city's Urban Renewal Authority, led to much public outcry and Mr. Ford's eventual resignation.  The sign has remained uncompleted for nearly three years.  Scenic Pittsburgh says it's time for it to come down, and it seems many in the city agree.

Hundreds of thousands of new trees to line historic corridor

As the state of Georgia prepares to allow billboard companies to cut down huge swaths of the public's trees to improve the visibility of their signs, news comes that over 600,000 new trees will be planted along the historic U.S. 15 corridor between Gettysburg, PA and Charlottesville, VA.

Our friends at the Journey Through Hallowed Ground have secured funding for The Living Legacy Project, which will plant one tree for every soldier who perished during the American Civil War, each serving as a living memorial to the 620,000 fallen soldiers.  

Sign owner says digital billboards can be distracting

Craig Heard, owner of Gateway Outdoor Advertising in Michigan, said he knows digital billboards can distract drivers.  "I know, myself, driving down the highway and all the sudden the sign changes, your eye catches it, no doubt," Heard said.

The billboard industry says digital billboards pose no safety hazard and has paid for their own studies to back that up.  Yet at the same time they promote billboards as the "one media that is truly unavoidable." 

Considering that, and knowing that our peripheral vision is particularly sensitive to light and motion, and knowing that any glance away from the road for more than two seconds greatly increases the risk of a crash or near-crash, it seems
counterintuitive to say that digital billboards pose no safety hazard.

Salt Lake City next to ban digital billboards?

by Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
It's looking like Salt Lake City will be the next major American city to ban digital billboards.  "It's the mayor's intent to establish a citywide ban on electronic billboards," said Art Raymond, the mayor's spokesman.

Salt Lake City already has six digital billboards within its bounds.  The city is questioning the validity of the permits for three of those, and will attempt to get a 24-hour change time on the others.

By banning digital billboards Salt Lake City will join Denver, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Houston and many other cities and towns, as well as the states of Montana, Alaska, Vermont, Maine and Hawaii.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Billboard industry seeks to end local control in North Carolina

Just as South Dakota is looking to give control over sign regulation to local communities, the billboard industry in North Carolina is trying to end local regulation of signs in that state.

The move comes just months after residents of Durham, NC fought off an attempt by Fairway Outdoor Advertising to get the city to open up its regulations and allow them to convert some static billboards to digital.  Citizens, who worked hard to craft regulations that would eventually see Durham billboard-free, rose up en masse to protest the proposal.  A unanimous city council vetoed the proposal.

"The big concern is who decides about community appearance and whether billboards are sited in a community, and how visible they are," said Ben Hitchings, the planning director in Morrisville and past legislative chair of the N.C. Chapter of the American Planning Association.  "It's a key question of local control: Will communities still be allowed to control the appearance of their own community, or will that be something dictated [to them], in this case by the billboard industry?"

The only entity that appears opposed to local control is the powerful billboard industry, which understands that when given a voice, communities quite naturally often prefer beauty over blight. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Massachusetts Judge orders billboard to come down

by Jack Foley / Herald News
A Superior Court judge has ruled that a large billboard located on property owned by a Massachusetts State Senator must come down because it was improperly permitted.

A smaller, shorter billboard stood on the site for several decades and became nonconforming because of its location in a residential neighborhood.  It was grandfathered in and allowed to stand, however when that sign was completely removed and a new one was built, it lost its grandfathered status.

The judge ruled that the new sign should not have been given a permit because it is located in a residential area.  The sign owners have 90 days to take it down.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jacksonville considers reinterpreting city charter to allow digital billboards

The city of Jacksonville, FL is poised to be bombarded with a slew of digital billboards if a new interpretation of the city charter is allowed to stand.

photo by Max Ashburn
A 1995 settlement agreement between the city, concerned citizens and billboard companies prohibited construction of new billboards in Jacksonville.  It also sought to gradually clean up the city's visual environment by requiring that a certain number of signs come down each year in residential areas and allowing a certain number to be rebuilt along busy commercial corridors using "identical sign faces."

In 2009 Clear Channel Outdoor requested permits to rebuild four billboards as digital billboards, a request that was denied by then-City Attorney Shannon Eller, who said flat out that the digital signs were a completely different kind of billboard and not identical in any way to the ones they would be replacing.

Digital billboards were not mentioned in the 1995 settlement agreement because there were no digital billboards in Duval County at that time.  In fact digital billboards as we know them today didn't exist at all in 1995.  However, any common sense interpretation of the requirement for an "identical" or "exact" sign face replacement says that a static sign rebuilt as digital does not meet that requirement.

Still, current city attorneys and the departing mayor stand poised to allow this reinterpretation (or really, misinterpretation), to go through.  They are sure to meet strong opposition from citizens, community groups and the legal community.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Winnipeg orders downtown digital billboard turned off

Our neighbors to the north have not been immune from the onslaught of digital billboards, and now one of Canada's largest cities has ordered a large digital sign be turned off.

photo from CBC news
The sign, in downtown Winnipeg, was erected illegally and in spite of the fact that permits for it had been denied.  At three stories high, it shown light across neighboring buildings.  Residents in one building complained to city officials, who again denied the sign a permit and ordered that it come down.

Gordon McDiarmid, who lives nearby, called the illumination from LED bulbs on the sign "highly intrusive" and "disturbing."  He said it is akin to having an outdoor movie theatre "right outside our window 24 hours a day."