Opponents lining up against billboard bill

Posted March 21, 2011 3:44 p.m. EDT
Updated March 21, 2011 6:39 p.m. EDT

— Cities and environmental advocates across North Carolina are banding together to oppose legislation that would loosen restrictions on billboards statewide.

Senate Bill 183 would allow digital billboards, which change every few seconds to advertise different products and services, every 1,500 feet on either side of a highway or major thoroughfare. Under the proposal, the distance between standard billboards would be 300 to 500 feet outside municipal limits and 100 feet inside.

The legislation also would allow billboard owners to ignore local bans on such outdoor advertising, as well as local regulations that prevent clear-cutting of trees and grass along roadsides.

"It's a property rights issue," said Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, one of the bill's co-sponsors. "If you owned property on the side of the road and you put up a sign and weren't allowed to clear your grass away, you've taken away a source of income that you or your family depend on."

Neighborhood groups in Durham, Wilmington and Winston-Salem have already come out against the bill, and the Raleigh City Council is expected to sign a resolution formally opposing it on Tuesday.

Raleigh resident Bob Fesmire has launched a Facebook campaign to stop the bill, saying digital billboards distract drivers.

"I don't really see how this benefits anybody except a very few businesspeople," Fesmire said. "Our purpose is to nip this in the bud and do what everybody wants to do – keep the scenic roads the way they are."

Rucho said the legislation will help businesses located off highways increase their advertising and retain jobs. He also said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to roadside scenery.

"The reality is, if (a billboard area) is kept up and kept clean, I look at it as being part of the scenic (view)," he said. "Would I like to see 2- to 3-foot grass? I don't think that's scenic unless I'm in the prairie."