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Starkville renews effort to eliminate billboards

 

Starkville aldermen are considering an ordinance that would change how the city classifies billboards. Some billboards, such as those along Highway 12, would be limited in the maintenance work they could receive while others would have to come down after a few years.

Starkville aldermen are considering an ordinance that would change how the city classifies billboards. Some billboards, such as those along Highway 12, would be limited in the maintenance work they could receive while others would have to come down after a few years.

 

David Little, left, and Lynn Spruill

David Little, left, and Lynn Spruill

 

 

Alex Holloway

 

 

The city of Starkville is taking aim at billboards through a new ordinance that, if approved, may lead to the eventual elimination of the signs within the city. 

 

Aldermen held the first public hearing for a proposed change to the city's billboard ordinance during their regular meeting Tuesday. Should the change be approved, the city will classify billboards into two categories -- Class 1, which are located along highways; and Class 2, which are not. 

 

Regardless of their class, the ordinance defines all existing billboards within the city as non-conforming, with the stated goal of removing them. 

 

"It is the intent of this section to recognize that the eventual elimination, as expeditiously and fairly as possible of non-conforming billboards is as much a subject of health, safety and welfare as it is the prohibition of new signs that would violate the provisions of this ordinance," the ordinance reads. 

 

There are currently about 15 billboards in Starkville, according to a map presented at Tuesday's board meeting. Most of the billboards in the city would be classified as Class 1, and are located on highways 12, 25 and 182. A handful of would-be Class 2 billboards are spread across Louisville Street and Lynn Lane. 

 

 

 

The ordinance 

 

The proposed ordinance tackles the different billboards in different ways. It sets a timetable for the removal of Class 2 billboards, and seeks to reduce or eliminate the number of Class 1 billboards by limiting how they can be modified or repaired. 

 

Class 1 billboards fall under state regulation because of their location on state highways. Specifically, Mississippi Code Sec. 49-23-17, says "If any political subdivision or other governmental agency requires the removal of any outdoor advertising sign lawfully erected, just compensation shall be paid to the owner of the sign for the cost of removal plus the fair market value of the sign removed." 

 

While the ordinance does not set a time for removal of the signs, it notes they cannot be changed to or replaced with other non-conforming signs; structurally altered to extend their useful life; expanded; repaired after damage to more than 50 percent of their value; or modified in any way that would increase their non-conformity. 

 

Under the proposed ordinance, Class 2 must be removed if they are damaged beyond 50 percent of their replacement cost. Otherwise, the ordinance sets a timeline for the removal of Class 2 signs -- 10 years for signs that cost less than $250,000 and 12 years for signs that cost $250,000 or more. 

 

The ordinance notes billboards can be strengthened or repaired if a building inspector declares them unsafe, as long as the work doesn't exceed 50 percent of the replacement cost of the sign. 

 

The ordinance also allows for modification or relocation of billboards, but only if the work results in "a net reduction in the number of billboards in the city of Starkville." 

 

 

 

'They're going to need to work with us' 

 

Ward 3 Alderman David Little, who called for a moratorium on billboards late last year, said the city is looking to improve aesthetically. Starkville has had two moratoriums on new billboards -- one in January that lasted six months and another that was established in the summer after the first ended. 

 

"There are some in particular on Highway 12 that have been in for 30-plus years and that don't look appealing," Little said. 

 

Little noted signs in other communities that are clad in brick and made to look generally appealing. He said he'd like for companies to cooperate with the city to improve how their signs look, but that's been a hard process so far. 

 

With the city's leverage otherwise limited, Little said the ordinance may make sign companies be more cooperative with Starkville. Little said Ridgeland successfully took a similar approach. 

 

"It worked for Ridgeland, so maybe it will work for us," he said. "I hope it will. Starkville is growing, and I think people will want to advertise. Maybe the sign companies will get on board." 

 

Mayor Lynn Spruill, likewise, said she believe the city would "absolutely" be receptive to more cooperation from billboard companies. 

 

"I know these companies are interested in getting away from static billboards (to digital billboards)," she said. "Their future money and revenue comes very strongly in being able to rate advertising on a frequency, so they can get more sales." 

 

Spruill said she supports the change, and wants to take every effort to beautify Starkville. She owns a billboard on Lynn Lane that would be Class 2 under the ordinance, and she plans to take it down after the holidays. 

 

Still, she said the reduction or elimination of billboards in Starkville is going to be a long-term project. 

 

"I think there's an acknowledgment that getting rid of them is not going to happen anytime soon," Spruill said. "This is the first step in creating an environment where they're not considered a normal thing in our city, and I think that helps keep them from coming in further." 

 

Lamar Advertising General Manager and Vice President Marty Elrod and attorney Mark Baker attended Tuesday's meeting. Baker asked aldermen to consider a provision in the ordinance that requires current signs to be re-permitted. He said that could "closely resemble a tax." 

 

"I think they've done a lot of work on that (ordinance)," Baker later told The Dispatch. "The staff has done a lot of work on that. We're trying to work with them. I hope to work through those final issues, and we'll see."

 

 

 

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