Behind the Bill: S183, Billboard Changes

Posted March 25, 2011
Updated March 28, 2011

A measure expected in Senate Judiciary next week would open the door to a lot more billboards in North Carolina. The League of Municipalities and other groups are working with the outdoor advertising industry on a compromise, but it's not clear just how much middle ground they'll find.  440 billboard Behind the Bill: Billboard Changes

Senate Bill 183 would let billboard owners cut down more trees and vegetation 400 feet around signs to make the signs more visible. Under current law, it's 250 feet. 

"In the Southeast, in the South, it is the most stringent rule," said Paul Hickman, manager of Fairway Outdoor Advertising. "In most states, it's 500 feet or more."

Sign owners would still have to get permits to cut down trees on the right of way. And under the bill, they'd pay higher fees for the privilege – money that would go back into the beautification fund at the state Department of Transportation for more trees and flowers somewhere else.

The bill would let sign owners turn existing signs into digital billboards. Cities would no longer have a say in the matter – the law would overrule local ordinances.

Local governments don't like that idea. Durham and Raleigh city councils have signed resolutions against it. The NC Association of County Commissioners, the Metropolitan Mayors coalition, and the League of Municipalities are all opposed, too.

Kelli Kukura directs government relations for the League of Municipalities. "We really want to be sure that we're doing what our communities and citizens want as it relates to billboards, and keeping it under local control is best," Kukura said.  

Sign owners say they don't understand cities' resistance to digital billboards. They say every industry is changing with technology. Why should theirs be different? 

Hickman says local officials could still turn down permits for new billboards - they just couldn't weigh in on changing existing billboards to digital. "We only would be modernizing our existing infrastructure. It's the same thing with any other business that's allowed to modernize their infrastructure. We don't know of another business that can't."

The bill would also allow more signs in less space on interstates and federal roads. Billboard owners could put up seven flashing signs per mile, if they wanted. And it makes it harder for the DOT to deny permits for new billboards.  The DOT says it's concerned about the proposal.

Hickman says Senate Bill 183 is needed because cities and counties have different ordinances, and often interpret state rules differently. He says his industry creates jobs, and it ought to be treated fairly. 

"There are groups that would like to see outdoor advertising eliminated completely," he said. "I mean, I've actually been told by some elected officials that they're okay if my business doesn't make it." 

Kukura insists local governments are trying to be reasonable about billboards. "What we don't want to see, though, are huge swaths of trees removed, significant amounts of vegetation removed across our communities, as well as the digital flashing billboards. It's just not something any of us want for the aesthetics and quality of life of our communities." 


This blog post is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • tmh1375 Apr 4, 2011

    "Can you imagine if you spent your whole life for your beliefs and all of a sudden someone posted something outside your home - and there is nothing you can do about it?"

    How do you think people feel that don't share your Christian views? You should really try to look at both sides of an argument.

    Senator Brown, I love how you are doing the work of the people. Good Job! Pathetic.

  • scotthervieux Mar 29, 2011

    I do not like this law.... More billboards with no regard for the residents or businesses in the area? Look at already what happened:


    these are starting to appear in our area (scroll down till you see Raleigh). Would you believe they placed one right across the Street from Pittsboro Christian village on hwy 64 in Pittsboro? That retirement home is home to many Christian - some who where pastors. Can you imagine if you spent your whole life for your beliefs and all of a sudden someone posted something outside your home - and there is nothing you can do about it? Many Lamar Advertising signs also exists right across the street from churches too....

    Communities should have the right to voice what is appearing in their neighborhoods.

  • SaveEnergyMan Mar 28, 2011

    I believe that government needs to exist at the lowest practical level - meaning less federal and more local. This bill strips the cities and counties of their right to control growth and clutter and places it with the state - who doesn't have the ability, nor the authority to control local issues. The industry is just mad they can't convince local elected officials, so they want to go over their heads.

  • pamalamadingdong Mar 27, 2011

    No to SB 183!!! North Carolina already has a major roadside litter problem. So we clear cut our trees to allow more litter, i.e. Billboards???

  • bwatu Mar 25, 2011

    The billboard industry's measure allows clear-cutting of more than an acre of public trees in the right of way, along 800 feet of road frontage -- for each two-sided billboard. This is close to double what is currently allowed.

    In areas in which billboards are closely spaced -- up to 10 billboards on each side of the road in one mile -- there will be no vegetation at all except for occasional tufts of trees.

    Removal of so much vegetation exposes billboards, and also also everything else that may be near the highway -- industrial buildings, warehouses, railroad tracks, which increases the negative visual impacts. Worse still, the loss of vegetation may impact residential areas and apartments located near the highway which are buffered by the existing trees.

    North Carolina's trees contribute to the state's economy. They serve as the backdrop for NC’s $17 billion tourism sector.

    Local towns should be able to decide for themselves. Industry's measure is too flawed to compromise.

  • explorerford Mar 25, 2011

    This is terrible. Folks, this Bill was filed by Senator Harry Brown who owns car lots in Fayettvilee. This is a very self serving bill, it will allow Used Car Salesman Harry Brown to advertise more tacky dealerships with more billboards. Wake up NC to the clowns you have elected to Legislature