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NC billboard lobby to state legislature: let us build billboards wherever we want

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.

"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?"


Steve Graff

Having just returned from a road trip to New Orleans and back, I certainly appreciate the small number of billboards that we have here in Durham. This is in contrast to the many digital billboards I saw that I found to be a distraction to my ability to pay attention to the road, as well the traditional "static" billboards. I greatly appreciated the stretches of road where all I saw was the forest lined roadway.

Communication methods have improved greatly over the decades since the invention of the billboard. Companies like Fairway need to either evolve with the times, or go extinct like the dodo bird. Their end-run around the city of Durham by going to the state legislature should be seen for what it is; a last ditch "hail mary" pass. I hope that the legislature has the wisdom to recognize this for what it is, block the pass, grab the ball and run the other way - scoring a game winning goal against Fairway.


My boyfriend lives in Youngsville. This winter, a digital billboard went up less than half a mile from his house. I drive by this billboard several times during the month and it is atrocious. Youngsville touts itself as a developing area; large shopping centers and big box stores going up left and right. This is growth that they are proud of, and to each their own. Every time I head back to Durham, I find myself even more grateful for where I live and the people that fight to keep Durham awesome!


That is just the definition of Democracy: to forbid local authorities to decide anything in their communities if it constrains any business interests.

Todd Patton

This is power grab by the new legislature, and who knows where it may end. If localities are denied the right to regulate billboards, what other local authority might the Republican legislature decide to take away?

Any local ordinance that could be construed as anti-business could be gone. Watershed regulations, historic districts, tree protection, living wage rules - imagine the field day lobbyists are having writing bills for the new GOP-led legislature. They probably start with "No local ordinance may be more restrictive than the state law regarding X..."


Here is a listing of the NC Senators and Representatives that have influence over Durham County. If you oppose allowing the State to override city and county restrictions on roadside displays, let them know!

Representative Larry Hall
[email protected]

Representative Paul Luebke
[email protected]

Representative Henry "Mickey" Michaux
[email protected]

Representative Winfrey "Winkie" Wilkins
[email protected]

Senator Robert Atwater
[email protected]

Senator Floyd McKissick
[email protected]


I think we'll have to lobby hard on this. This is where the deep deep pockets of K&L Gates & the Billboard industry will go far --- lining the pockets of the legislators.

Steve Bocckino

Our legislators should be urged to go on the record now as opposing this new slimy move by the billboarders and their attorneys.

Rodrigo "El Justiciero" Dorfman

From the Republicans who profess to uphold government intervention in local affairs!!!!! I'm still amazed to see - after all these years living in the USA (that's 30 years) how hypocrites and liars are given a free pass.... and get reelected... must be something in the ketchup!

Doug Roach

We should have seen this coming from the moment they announced last Fall's election results. The party of uber-corporate rights once again attempts to steamroll quality of life advocates. I'm expecting a press release any moment from the spin hacks at the law firm K&L Gates (remember that name). With great fanfare they will announce that this most magnanimous industry will provide 22,570 high-wage jobs in Durham County while simultaneously contributing an undetermined but generous number of billboard minutes to such worthy causes as "Republican Legislators With Learning Disorders".
It will also be noted by those legislators that the state is in a severe and possibly terminal budget crisis and is forced to utilize every revenue source available INCLUDING the several tens of hundreds of dollars that billboards throughout the state contribute in actual publicly visible tax revenue. (Of course, the millions that K&L Gates will receive to manage this scam is not taxable.)

The amazing part, as Rodrigo notes above, is that these lackeys continue to get elected and the public continues to roll over for their bread and circus tripe.


I have yet to find any of my pro-business Republican or Libertarian friends who support digital billboards, or any attempt to remove local control over those ordinances. There's almost zero public support for more billboards, and I doubt much business support including much of the advertising industry that utilize other forms of communications. Therefore, it follows that the only strong supporters are from the billboard industry itself, and their lobbyists.


We'll have to follow the money. Which shouldn't be hard . . . straight from Fairway & K&L Gates to the pockets of Republican legislators in Raleigh.

Tar Heelz

Not to expres an opinion one way or another on this new legislative effort, a couple of observations:

1) This would not be precedent setting. Already municipalities are restricted from regulating certain development as local authorities might desire (see e.g. cell towers, manufactured housing, and family group homes).

2) This is not fairly characterized as an end run. Local governments had no authority for comprehensive zoning until the General Assembly set forth the detailed limits of that power by statute. The zoning provisions of Ch 160A get tweaked every session.


Beibar thanks! I just sent a note to all of them. it took me 7 minutes because of you!

Alex Sterling

What's the big deal? As they said on The Simpsons: "just don't look!"

But seriously, does anyone think banning billboards won't eventually cause our taxes to rise even further?

Steve Bocckino

If we ever needed to move a digital billboard, say to widen a road, it would cost the taxpayers a million bucks. The only cost we have for banning billboards is staff time in the Planning Department.

Todd Patton

Banning billboards has zero impact on our taxes because the billboard companies pay next to nothing in property taxes to Durham.

It has taken decades and a federal lawsuit to get them down to the 100 or so signs left in Durham. This decision could reverse that, allowing countless flashing, blinking signs along I-85, I-40, 15-501, US70, and whereever else the billboard industry wants to put them - on poles tall enough to be above the trees.

That's not a blight I would wish on anyone.


Yeah the correlation of illuminated Billboards, that you can't evade looking at if the are in front of you in the road, and taxes is so clear. If we get to put a billboard on each corner no more taxes!!!

And even taking the absurd correlation between billboards and taxes seriously, aren't taxes worth paying if they keep obnoxious ugly ass billboards that cause accidents out of our streets?

Will Wilson

I wouldn't be surprised if such a measure will pass this legislature and escape veto; any lawyers out there know if the repeal of such a measure could order billboards put up under its authority taken down? (Nobody practice law without a license, please!)

Todd Patton

Even if the law is eventaully repealed, once the dang signs are up, they are up. The companies would be entitled to compensation for having their signs taken down. That compensation would run into the millions of $. In other words, if we lose this fight, the signs won't be coming back down until a Cat 5 hurricane blows through.


Why am I getting a vision of the last scene in Bladerunner in my head?

Chris Muller

I would like to hope that some of the Republican lawmakers would stop and think that, last I checked, local control of local issues is in line with their party principles. I mean, isn't that small government in action? Letting municipalities decide how they want to run their affairs and state government staying out of the fray?

Either that, or recognize for a minute that letting the industry do absolutely whatever it wants to and laying low any possible barriers might not be the best idea in the world despite it being a "pro-business" decision. I mean, Republican or not, they're going to have to live with the consequences too.


Gronberg's article only states that the billboard industry reps are working on a bill, not republican X or democrat Y is working on a bill, unless I missed it completely.

I find the lack of NC political history knowledge of people bemoaning the perpetual reelection of these idiot republicans amusing.

That being said, if a bill does get introduced by a representative, I hope that the bill is unanimously defeated and that politician is booted from office during the next election cycle.

I Heart Durham

I have a real problem with billboards, they are a distraction when I am in the middle of dialing my cell phone as I zip down the highway. I guess my worry over DPS, should be replaced by my worry over Durham getting digital billboards - people may not want to move here!

Tweedle Dee

Yes, because us Durhamites are so damned dumb, we can only handle one issue at a time.

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