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Billboard protection bill zooms through first test

Published February 7, 2012 7:50 pm

SB136 • Measure would override local ordinances on electronic signs.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Despite weeks of negotiations, billboard companies that want to swap out old, printed billboards with new electronic signs remain at an impasse with Utah cities that want to be able to limit the displays in residential neighborhoods.

But SB136, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, would override local ordinances, giving the billboard companies the authority to upgrade any billboard they want with a digital billboard, as long as it is not within 150 feet of a home.

"I don't want to take over local control of everything," Niederhauser said Tuesday. "But when they go outside the bounds of some fundamentals we believe in, then yes, it is the state's right to step in and make some changes."

Dewey Reagan, president of Reagan Outdoor Advertising, said that the companies are being treated differently from one city to the next and "we think it would be best regulated uniformly by state statute."

Reagan Outdoor Advertising has given $375,000 to political campaigns since 2008.

The Senate Government Operations Committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the full Senate for consideration. Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, said she still might vote against its passage.

Several municipalities, most notably Salt Lake City, have resisted allowing the billboard companies to swap out traditional billboards with new LED-lit digital signs, arguing they pose a risk by distracting drivers and the light is a nuisance to residents.

Jodi Hoffman, of the League of Cities and Towns, told the committee that many of the squabbles over condemning billboards and legal issues have been worked out, but asking cities to completely surrender planning and zoning authority over billboards in residential neighborhoods is "a bridge too far."

"We believe that government governs best at the local level, when it's closest to the people, and we think our local planning and zoning should have a say in these conversion issues," Hoffman said. "The industry said, 'No, we want everything. We want the whole enchilada."

Under SB136, cities could impose a curfew on the billboards, forcing them to go dark from midnight until 6 a.m. if it is not located on a major thoroughfare. The bill also prevents cities from demanding billboard companies give up a billboard to upgrade another.

"We are not asking for more signs," said Rob Saunders, of Saunders Outdoor Advertising. "We simply want to be able to use the technology that all other businesses are currently able to use."

Niederhauser said it has become clear to him over the years that "there is a concerted effort to get rid of this type of advertising in many communities out there."

"This is a fundamental right of business and commerce to be able to advertise," he said. "Just because a majority of us want to do away with a certain industry doesn't mean that that's our right to do that, because I think we start to take away from the fundamentals of America."