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INC to feature vote on competing billboard resolutions tonight

Durham's Inter-Neighborhood Council will bring the question of its support for changes in Durham's billboard ordinances, or not, to the forefront this evening with a vote on two competing resolutions.

One would encourage the maintenance of existing rules and regulations on billboards, which forbid their renovation/upfit and do not permit electronic or digital billboards in Durham. The second, competing resolution would support billboard stakeholders' request for digital billboards and for replacement and improvement to existing sign sites.

Individual neighborhood associations have been asked to vote on the direction their INC representatives should follow at tonight's meeting, which begins at 7pm tonight in the Community Room at the Herald-Sun offices on Pickett Rd.

Meanwhile, opponents of any changes to Durham's currently-restrictive billboard ordinances have today launched a new web site with their perspective on the issue. OWD advocate John Schelp also penned, with Larry Holt, a guest column in today's H-S opposing any changes to the ordinances. (The column is currently available only in the print edition.)



There has been a flurry of activity on the Rockwood neighborhood email list today, as residents were unaware that a resolution was apparently submitted on their behalf. The resolution apparently supports electronic billboards. Rockwood residents were never asked to vote on a resolution, as far as anyone on the list knows. This all comes as a suprise to most of us in Rockwood, to say the least.


And the resolution was backdoored by the billboard company's lawyer who got himself appointed Rockwood's rep at the 11th hour.

INC needs to change its name to ICC-InterCorporate Council. It has become a shill for big companies who want the INC seal of approval on their projects.

Where is real neighborhood advocacy when we need it most???

John Schelp

column: Electronic billboards still a bad idea for Durham
By Larry Holt & John Schelp, Herald-Sun, 24 March 2009

The billboard industry is campaigning hard to overturn Durham's existing ban on billboards. To counter the misinformation coming from industry, folks in the community are launching a new website today at

On this site, you can see photos of billboards over homes in East Durham, video clips of blinking electronic billboards in action, and a thoughtful presentation supporting Durham's current ban on billboards.

Overturning Durham's ban on electronic billboards would open the door to big, bright, blinking billboards on I-85, 147, 15-501 and 70. Do we want large billboards at the top of tall metal poles -- flashing ads every eight seconds -- near homes, schools, parks and places of worship?

The site outlines many reasons to oppose the billboard industry's attempt to overturn our ordinance.

Billboard taxes and the local economy: Billboards are not taxed on the amount of revenue they generate. So, billboards contribute an extremely small amount to Durham's tax revenues.

Fairway Advertising paid just $2,605.60 in taxes last year. Just $2600 for the 46 billboards Fairway owns in Durham. Many single family residences in Durham pay a lot more than that.

Replacing standard billboards with electronic ones would generate 10 times more revenues for billboard owners -- from $2,000 to $14,000/month (Inc. magazine). And yet, tax revenues would remain tiny.

Adding insult to injury, if local officials wanted to remove an electronic billboard for any reason in the future, Durham taxpayers would have to compensate the owners for lost revenues.

Jobs: Durham would see few economic benefits from new jobs, since billboard companies employ very few people (mostly managers and sales personnel), and Fairway's offices are in Georgia and Raleigh. Fairway's impact on Durham's economy is negligible.

Public Service Ads: A common industry tactic for undermining public opposition to electronic billboards is to offer free billboard space to non-profit organizations. The industry has employed this tactic in Durham, asking City Council members to name their favorite local non-profits then approaching the groups and offering them free billboard space. This explains why you're suddenly seeing non-profit billboards around town.

The often unnoticed irony in this tactic is that the ads on electronic billboards change about 10,800 times/day. So, we can see PSAs for anti-drinking programs followed by ads for Bud Lite and Seagram's Vodka.

Billboards and the environment: Electronic billboards have a big carbon footprint -- equivalent to that of about 13 houses. At the same time citizens are being urged to use florescent light bulbs to reduce our individual carbon footprints, we're being urged to embrace billboards and their energy consumption?

Public safety: Anything that distracts a driver's eyes from the road for more than two seconds significantly increases the chances of a wreck. Electronic billboards are designed to attract drivers' attention and are an intrinsic safety hazard. Do we really want drivers on our increasingly congested thoroughfares intentionally distracted by attention-grabbing electronic billboards?

Aesthetics: Durham citizens, neighborhood groups, and local officials worked hard to reduce billboard blight along our highways and in our city. There have been a many, many letters to the editor from Durham citizens who oppose electronic billboards and a only a few supporting the billboard industry, with most of those coming from the Friends of Durham/Chamber of Commerce camp. Some of these letter writers have blamed local government for the deterioration of billboards in Durham. The fact is that current ordinances allow billboard companies to make annual improvements in order to maintain their billboards, but the industry has allowed its billboards to deteriorate anyway. These billboards may be ugly, but don't blame current ordinances or local government.

The Chamber's efforts on behalf of the billboard industry to overturn the current ban on electronic billboards, despite citizen outcry, begs the question: Why are the City and County giving the Chamber $128,000 in taxpayer subsidies/year so the Chamber can turn around and lobby local officials on behalf of outside interests that contribute little to our local economy or quality of life?

And it's inexcusable that billboard industry lawyers target a Planning staffer because the facts she presents don't support their client's attempt to overturn Durham's ban on electronic billboards (Officials' objectivity questioned, Herald-Sun, 3/08/09). Surely, the billboard industry isn't suggesting that relevant facts should be kept from the public?

As a recent article points out, there are plenty of compelling reasons not to overturn Durham's ordinance (Planner: Proceed with caution on billboard issue, Durham News, 2/07/09)...

* Fairway's billboards now produce about $2,600 in county tax revenue; switching some to digital "would still not generate significant revenue"

* Local government cannot require the signs to carry public-service messages

* Digital billboards could be found to violate the federal Highway Beautification Act

* Allowing digital billboards while safety studies are pending could expose Durham to liability for accidents

* Full sunlight reaches about 6,500 "nits;" a digital billboard can reach 10,000 nits.

Please visit our new website. Electronic billboards are a bad idea for Durham. Together, we can stop the billboard industry.



[Note: Column above is submitted version, published version not yet online]

Map of billboards in Durham...


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