From the didn't-see-that-coming department, Ray Gronberg from the Herald-Sun writes this morning about a new development in the fight between North Carolina's billboard lobby and cities across NC.
Gronberg broke the news this morning that the NC Outdoor Advertising Association is working on a bill to prohibit municipal regulation of billboards. From the H-S:
"We have been told there will be a bill to basically prevent local governments from having restrictions on digital billboards or any kind of local ordinance," said Molly Diggins, executive director of the N.C. Sierra Club.
Many will remember August's long City Council meeting that ended in a unanimous vote against loosening Durham's long-standing ban on new billboard construction. After failure in the city, Fairway Outdoor Advertising, the original applicant for looser billboard regulations, withdrew its application for the same from the Board of County Commissioners in September.
In recent years, there has been a push by billboard companies to allow construction of digital billboards. These digital billboards are essentially large, ultra-bright digital displays that change message every eight seconds. Opponents of digital billboards cite numerous reasons to prevent their construction, including blight, safety, and a lack of energy efficiency.
Even scarier than the attempted run-around local zoning regulations on billboards is the possibility of a precedent for side-stepping local planning departments with a request to the state legislature.
If the state decides where local governments must allow billboards, then what other traditionally-municipal zoning issues will the state take up next? This concern is highlighted by Morrisville Planning Director (and former legislative head of the American Planning Association's NC chapter) Ben Hitchings in today's Herald-Sun piece:
"The big concern is who decides about community appearance and whether billboards are sited in a community, and how visible they are," Hitchings said Wednesday, explaining why he raised the alarm. "It's a key question of local control: Will communities still be allowed to control the appearance of their own community, or will that be something dictated [to them], in this case by the billboard industry?"
Stay tuned for more on this issue, both here and from local newspapers, as it develops.