Local News

Push for digital billboards divides Durham

Posted June 23, 2010 10:00 p.m. EDT
Updated June 23, 2010 11:24 p.m. EDT

— An advertising company's desire to erect digital billboards in Durham has the sheriff and some neighborhood groups at odds.

Fairway Outdoor Advertising wants to move some billboards and upgrade some to transmit digital messages and is seeking approval from the City Council and the county Board of Commissioners.

The Durham Chamber of Commerce and the local business community back the move, as does Durham County Sheriff Worth Hill.

"We are not trying to get in the politics of this. We are just being selfish that, hey, this is how it would help us," Hill said Wednesday.

Digital billboards could be used for Amber Alerts and Silver Alerts, Crime Stoppers announcements or traffic alerts, he said.

Fairway officials have pledged that they would post one public service announcement for every six other messages on digital billboards, if Durham allows the new signs.

"These billboards will give me another tool to help me carry out my mission for this community," Hill said.

Police Chief Jose Lopez said he is neutral about the idea of digital billboards to help officers. He said it is up to local residents to decide if they want them, not the police department.

A survey by the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau has found that most residents support Durham's current billboard ordinance, which doesn't include digital billboards.

"I think they are distracting, I think they are potentially dangerous, and we don't need them on our roadways," said John Schelp, president of the Old West Durham Neighborhood Association.

Schelp said the state Department of Transportation already has signs on local highways where law enforcement can post information about wrecks or Amber Alerts.

"You don't have to wait through advertisements for cigar outlets and beer before you get to an Amber Alert," he said, adding that Fairway is using a public safety angle to win support for the new billboards.

"One of their tactics is to get local support from sheriffs to support their ordinances," he said.