BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for December 3, 2008
Bell takes a different mic for a change

Billboard debate to star at December INC meeting

Tired of all the good cheer and warm feelings the holidays have to offer? Looking to put some cranky back in your life?

Be sure to stop by the Inter-Neighborhood Council meeting next Tuesday, Dec. 9, then, when Fairway Outdoor Advertising's Paul Hickman is scheduled to make a presentation to INC.

The topic isn't specified on the agenda -- but it's a no-brainer that this will be a chance to discuss Fairway's proposal to upgrade a number of their billboards in the Bull City with those shiny new video billboards that can change their appearance and content every few seconds.

As we talked about here back in August, the billboard industry and Durham have been stalemated for years across a demilitarized zone of conflicting laws. Billboards are prohibited in Durham, though existing signs are grandfathered in; under the UDO, you can't renovate a non-conforming property. Yet Federal law protects the billboard industry from having the City remove the signs.

The City/County Planning department has been reviewing the proposal after a vote by the joint planning committee comprised of City Council and BOCC members a few months back.

As Tom Miller from W-H put it on the INC listserv this weekend:

We worked hard for years to eliminate the billboard blight form our streets and highways and now we have to fight all over again.

The city spent fortunes in court defending its tough new billboard rules and won at every level.  The billboard industry took the fight to the legislature and tried to get laws passed which would not only eliminate a city’s power to regulate billboards, but which would also require local governments to pay every time zoning or other regulations diminished the value of property.  None of these measures proposed to make the developer pay when changing regulations enhanced the value of their properties.  Fortunately, none of these proposals passed.  They did succeed in getting the legislature to end amoratization as a way phasing out unwanted uses.

Into the INC fray steps Hickman, who was warned by City Councilman Mike Woodard he'd need an "asbestos jumpsuit" to make it through the debate with civic stakeholders.

A sideline note: In the comments in our August story, BCR reader and NBC 17 blogger (and ex-H-S metro ace) Ginny Skalski suggested that it would be interesting to find out what money had come to elected officials from the billboard industry.

In a year of foregone election conclusions and no general election fun, it's an academic point for elected officials per se -- but perhaps not for one of the pet causes of many BOCC and City Council members, the prepared meals tax, which went down in flames back in November.

One of the biggest donors to the pro-tax education effort? One Fairway Outdoor Advertising, which donated billboard space valued at just under $29,000 to the effort. You've got to love Hickman's pull-quote in the company's press release on the subject:

“Fairway believes in supporting the Durham community and its leadership,” said Hickman. “There has been a strong desire by Durham’s community leaders to educate the public about this proposed referendum and as a good corporate citizen, Fairway seeks to contribute its resources to this great community cause.”

Stop by next Tuesday to hear the debate. And bring your asbestos jumpsuit.


Joshua Allen

I saw one of these electronic billboards in the Triad area along I-40 and it was obnoxious... much worse than the static billboards we have already. I'm super curious about how this guy intends to convince us to support these horrific billboards. I cannot imagine anyone wanting these things except those who profit from them.


No to the billboards, I say. Talk about a great way to further decrease the property value that was already hit hard when NC-147 was put in! Do we want these areas to stay blighted forever, just as we are starting to see some of the boarded up houses get fixed up and occupied by working families?


Electronic billboards look great - in Times Square. And Las Vegas.

But not in Durham. No way. Tacky, tacky, tacky.

However, if Fairway wants to talk about installing free bus shelters in return for allowing reasonable, non-electronic ads on the shelters, I'm all ears.

John Schelp

I've seen these electronic bill boards in the Triad and near Richmond. They look like large flat screen TVs on a stick -- that flash different images every five seconds.

Not only do the bill boards represent a distraction on the Interstate in a congested urban setting, many of these bill boards stand near homes and residential neighborhoods along the Interstate.

I'm surprised this is even being considered by local officials. The INC needs to strongly oppose this move by the bill board industry.


In some cities, billboard companies have agreed to reduce the number of billboards 3:1 for each new electronic billboard. That is, if they replace a static billboard with an electronic model, they will take two more static boards down.

What do folks think about that as a possibility?

Diane Catotti

You might also want to look at the August 07, 2008 bullcity rising posting: Billboard owners look for okay to upgrade.

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