[Durham INC] Editorial: United in opposition (Herald-Sun)
bwatu at yahoo.com
Tue Apr 13 05:51:17 EDT 2010
"It boils down to this: Durham doesn't want those billboards, they don't significantly add to the tax base, and changing our rules could having us spend years and millions of dollars in court... we hope [the Planning Commission] will move swiftly and decisively against any change to the ordinance, and we hope both the Durham City Council and Durham County Board of Commissioners will follow suit."
Editorial: United in opposition
Herald-Sun, 13 April 2010
Electronic billboards are a clear -- a flashing, blinking, obvious -- step forward when it comes to the bottom line of advertising: attracting eyes.
But, after more than a year of discussion, it appears that Durham would be taking a giant tumble backward if the city or county overturns a 1980s billboard ban that cost $1 million to defend in court.
Fairway Outdoor Advertising owns 47 billboards in Durham. The Georgia-based company has asked for permission to replace a quarter of them with electronic displays. Opponents characterize this as 11 or 12 pulsating beacons advertising cigarette wholesalers, fast food and DUI attorneys.
Last year, we stood cautiously in favor of Fairway's proposal. Thanks to Durham's existing rules, the billboards that stand in the county are aging and will not be replaced. It's a toss-up when it comes to the aesthetic value: Is it better to let billboards decay, or to allow an update that would set the city up for another 40 or more years of roadside advertising?
Some of the early scuttlebutt made it seem as the change came with strong inducements for the city and county, but those inducements aren't strong enough to overcome the surge of public sentiment in opposition to the digital displays.
The boards' property tax -- estimated at $60,000 per year -- is lower than we hoped.
Despite the fact that the electronic billboards can change screens and serve multiple advertisers, the company has not indicated that it will tear down any of its other aging billboards.
The city and county planning staffs, which are responsible for the rules that govern which kinds of signs, buildings and businesses can find a home in Durham, have also offered a firm opinion: No billboards. No thanks.
The staff's decision rests in part on the 1980s ban, which grandfathered in 94 existing billboards but barred any new ones, and on the city's strict limits on digital displays. Opening the door to electronic billboards would create a gap for other businesses to exploit.
Their recommendation will be formally presented to the Durham Planning Commission tonight. It should be a hot meeting, with billboard opponents lined up to speak during the public comment period. The coalition spans the city, including advocates from Old West Durham to North East Central Durham.
Both staff and citizens have a lot to say about why billboards are ill-advised, and they go so far as to say that they are a dangerous distraction to passing motorists (although we'd like to see the accident and fatality statistics before we back that assertion).
But it boils down to this: Durham doesn't want those billboards, they don't significantly add to the tax base, and changing our rules could having us spend years and millions of dollars in court.
The Planning Commission can put off a decision about the billboards for up to three months, but we hope they will move swiftly and decisively against any change to the ordinance, and we hope both the Durham City Council and Durham County Board of Commissioners will follow suit.
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