City Council members are considering a resolution opposing legislative attempts to block local control of billboards. The statement was drafted by retired Deputy City Attorney Karen Sindelar, who is deeply experienced in billboard litigation and working on contract with the city.
Sindelar sent the draft (link below) out Friday.
The attempts, Senate Bill 183 and House Bill 309, are titled "Selective Vegetation Removal/State Highways" but clauses deep in their wording take away cities and counties' authority to regulate billboard advertising.
That would clear the way of local ordinances that, in Durham's case, ban new billboards and ban conversion of any billboards to digital operation -- bans upheld by the city council last year when Fairway Outdoor Advertising sought to have them removed.
The draft resolution opposes both the bills' usurping of local authority and the provisions referred to in the title regarding vegetation -- which would increase the area a billboard owner may clear to provide a view of his or her sign.
Raleigh's city council passed a resolution opposing the bills April 5. Both bills have been in their respective transportation committees since early March.
A bill to override local governments' bans on digital billboards was filed Wednesday in the N.C. General Assembly.
Besides allowing billboard owners to convert billboards to electronic operation, even if the original sign violates a local ordinance, the bill specifies conditions under which trees, shrubs and other vegetation on state-owned rights-of-way may be cut to make outdoor advertising signs more visible from the roads.
The state chapter of the American Planning Association, and the InterNeighborhood Council of Durham, are opposing any such legislation. A billboard company's attempt to overthrow Durham's ban on new billboards and digital conversion failed when the city council voted unanimously against it last summer.
Senate Bill 183, as submitted, rewrites a one-sentence statute that currently sets thepermit fee for "selective vegetation removal" at $200. The proposed version of G.S. 136-18.7 runs more than eight pages.
The bill's sponsor is state Sen. Harry Brown, Republican of Jones and Onslow counties.
To view the bill, use the link below:
The InterNeighborhood Council is gearing up for another billboard battle, this time at the General Assembly.
Tuesday night, the group unanimously approved a resolution opposing any new restrictions on local governments' authority to regulate billboards.
No such bill has been introduced, but State Sen. Floyd McKissick and others have said that rumors abound that billboard interests are drafting restrictive legislation for the current session.
Some neighborhood delegates at Tuesday's meeting suggested waiting until a bill is actually introduced, but INC President Tom Miller, who introduced the resolution, said waiting could be risky.
"INC meets once a month and the General Assembly meets once a day," he said. "If we wait we may miss the vote [in the legislature], we may not be able to do what we can do and I'm not sure how much that may be."
Before they got down to dealing with 751 South last night, the county commissioners put off dealing with billboards.
Fairway Outdoor Advertising, which wants to loosen Durham's ordinance so it can convert some of its signs to digital operation and upgrade and move some others, had asked for a continuance after its 7-0 defeat last week at the hands of the City Council.
"We heard the comments that were made there and are in the process of seeing whether there is some reasonable compromise that can be put forward," said Fairway attorney Patrick Byker.
A public hearing on the request was on the commissioners' agenda, along with the continued hearing on 751 South. But the commissioners' approval for Fairway's continuance didn't come without some commissioner comment.
Commissioner Ellen Reckhow wanted to go ahead last night.
"The issue has been before this community for 2 1/2 years," she said. "It has been publicly debated, there are a lot of people in the audience here who have given up their time to come."
Commissioner Joe Bowser and Chairman Michael Page, though, said they couldn't remember another instance when an applicant's request for deferral was not granted.
"I don't think this group should be treated any different from any other group," Bowser said. "In all fairness we should do the same thing."
Fairway announced its intent to challenge the current ordinance in the summer of 2008, and was advised by a committee of commissioners and City Council members to test public opinion. Before their vote Aug. 2, some council members said they had received more than 1,000 emails opposing the Fairway request and fewer than 10 supporting it.
"This has been on the table for a long time now, they had plenty of time to do their thing," said Commissioner Becky Heron. "We need to move on."
Move on they did, to the 751 South rezoning, but not until they had voted to grant Fairway the delay. Fairway's request comes back to the commissioners Sept. 13.
Bull's Eye correspondent Virginia Bridges reports:
During Thursday's City Council work session Thursday, Councilman Howard Clement asked whether the city could prevent the digital-billboard issue from coming before the council again, despite last Monday's unanimous vote against allowing them in town.
“In my 27 years on this council, there is one issue that has been consistently dealt with fairly and comprehensively,” Clement said.
“I don’t want to hear it again.”
City attorney Patrick Baker said that there is no such mechanism that could prevent someone from bringing the request back.
Bull's Eye correspondent Virginia Bridges reports that, in the wake of the City Council’s rejection of Fairway Outdoor Advertising's request to loosen billboard restrictions in Durham, City-County Planning Director Steve Medlin told elected officials Thursday that his department will be stepping up enforcement of local and state regulations that require the signs to be maintained.
“There are provisions in the Unified Development Ordinance which does give us the latitude to require that all billboards be maintained in terms of their appearance,"
Medlin told the council during its regular work session.
“We as a staff are going through, doing a complete assessment and trying to identify any that are not incompliance with both our local and our state regs, and we will be working to bring those into compliance or to have them removed.”
The city can send notice of violations, which could result in fines, to companies who own billboards that aren’t maintained, Medlin said. If a billboard is destroyed beyond 50 percent of its replacement value, the city can require the company to remove the structure, Medlin said.
The supporting structure is considered to be 50 percent of a billboard’s value, with the sign’s face making up the additional 50 percent, Medlin said.
On Monday the City Council unanimously rejected Fairway’s request to change Durham's Unified Development Ordinance to allow it to relocate some of its signs, upgrade some and convert some to digital operation.
Durham planning commissioners gave the current billboard ordinance a vote of confidence Tuesday night, recommending denial for a billboard company's request to revise the 20-year-old law.
"There is no benefit to the people of Durham," commissioner Wendy Jacobs said. "This is purely to benefit the billboard industry."
The Inter Neighborhood Council approved a resolution opposing any changes in Durham's billboard ordinance, with one neighborhood voting against the resolution and three not voting.
Meeting Tuesday night, the council also approved a resolution favoring a change in Durham's neighborhood protection overlay ordinance such that any zoning-change request within an overlay would generate an automatic protest petition.
The delegates also agreed to reschedule their next meeting to allow a vote on a resolution favoring an independent survey of the Jordan Lake watershed boundary in southwest Durham County prior to the county commissioners' public hearing on the matter April 13.
The Tuscaloosa-Lakewood Neighborhood Association board has passed resolutions calling for an independent survey of the Jordan Lake watershed boundary in southwestern Durham County; and opposing any change to the city's billboard ordinance.
Durham County Commissioners hold a special work session on the boundary survey at 3:30 this afternoon (Monday, March 23) in the commissioners' chambers, 200 E. Main St. (Old Courthouse). The meeting is open to the public, but commissioners are not expected to receive public comment. See www.co.durham.nc.us/departments/bocc/Agendas/Current_Meeting_Agen.html.
The Inter Neighborhood Council takes its position on billboards when it meets Tuesday night, at 7 at the Herald-Sun building off Pickett Road. The council is considering two resolutions, one opposing any change and one that would allow some changes sought by the Fairway Outdoor Advertising Co.