Looser billboard rules finally on move in House

Posted June 14

— Proposed rules for
Many a roadside sign
After some delays
A House panel does deem fine
Burma Shave

State legislation that would supersede some local ordinances restricting the size and location of billboards appears to be on its way to the House floor after repeated false starts in recent months.

House Bill 581 has been pulled back from a floor vote twice in the last month, and two similar billboard-related proposals never even made it to the floor earlier this session. Sponsor Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, said he has been working with all interested parties in recent months to fine-tune the bill and craft something everyone could accept.

Lewis said the "bureaucratic batting back and forth" between the state Department of Transportation and local officials over whether billboards that were taken down to accommodate road construction could be put back up is akin to taking private property without compensating the owner.

His proposal, he said, would promote the "preservation and modernization of the outdoor advertising industry" without hurting communities.

"Nothing in the bill grows the number of billboards," he said, adding that Cary and other communities that don't allow billboards will still be able to keep them out.

The bill would allow companies to remove "old wooden, raggedy signs" and replace them with more modern billboards, he said, but they could go up only in areas zoned for commercial or industrial use. Also, the total square footage of all new billboards would be the same as the one that were replaced.

Although municipalities lose some control over where billboards can be placed, Lewis said, it only "makes sense to have a uniform system" for regulating the signs, which are all permitted by DOT along federally subsidized roads.

The DOT isn't opposed to the bill, but lobbyist Joy Hicks said the agency remains concerned that some language in the bill could threaten federal highway funding that the state receives. Lewis dismissed those fears, saying other states have enacted similar regulations without any penalty.

A representative of Scenic America said Lewis' bill effectively creates a "cartel system" for billboards, allowing anyone who has a permit for a roadside sign to move that sign wherever he or she wants and to transfer that permit to others as needed.

But Aaron Guyton of North Carolina Outdoor Advertising said the industry should be allowed to live or die based on market forces and not on the desires of local communities to rid themselves of billboards.

The measure easily cleared the House Regulatory Reform Committee on a voice vote and could be on the House floor by Thursday.

1 Comment

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  • Jim Frei Jun 14, 9:45 p.m.
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    Billboards are ugly. They should be phased out at no cost to the taxpayer.