Billboard clampdown: A look at local ban as Starkville mulls moratorium

January 9, 2017 11:04:06 AM

Alex Holloway - aholloway@cdispatch.com

 

While one Golden Triangle city mulls a short-term billboard ban, another has had one in place for more than a decade. 

 

Starkville's board of aldermen will consider enacting a six-month moratorium on billboards later this month in an effort to address concerns of overcrowding. 

 

Ward 3 Alderman David Little brought the matter to the board last month after receiving a citizen complaint about a billboard under construction in front of their business near the Mississippi Land Bank on Highway 12 in east Starkville. 

 

The moratorium would prevent new billboard construction and prohibit changes to existing billboards. 

 

Columbus has had such a ban on new billboards since 2000, and councilmembers have said they think the moratorium has been successful. 

 

Columbus's Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin, whose ward contains much of the highly-traveled Highway 45 corridor, said he feels the city might already have too many billboards and wants to work with property owners and businesses to reduce the clutter. 

 

But he said he thinks the ban on new billboards has proven effective in preventing even more from going up. 

 

"I believe it's good, and I believe it's worked," Gavin said. "There's no telling how many actual billboards we would have now if we didn't have a moratorium in place. There was nothing there to stop them. I think the moratorium has been effective in doing what we wanted it to do." 

 

The Columbus City Council considered lifting the moratorium in 2014 after Laurel-based digital billboard company Busby Companies approached the city with a request to place a new billboard. The council voted to keep the moratorium in place. 

 

Gavin was opposed to lifting the moratorium at the time. He said he's still in favor of keeping the ban on new billboards because of the clutter they can create. 

 

"There are 33 billboards in the span of about two and a half miles on Highway 45," Gavin said. "I mean, that's a lot of billboards. Highway 45 in Ward 6 is predominantly the retail center of Columbus. We need to create, in my opinion,...a nice-looking area that makes people want to come here and shop and not have to be distracted by billboards." 

 

Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens has, at times, expressed interest in lifting the moratorium, but he said he understands the opposition to doing so. 

 

"I was looking at it from a financial standpoint," Mickens said. "At the time, we were down in taxes, maybe, and just trying to see how we could generate some revenue for the city. That was my reason for wanting to lift it." 

 

Even so, Mickens said the moratorium appears to have been successful in preventing further billboards. 

 

"Highway 45 is crowded -- it's very crowded," Mickens said. "I haven't seen anyone else coming out here wanting to put more (billboards) out there, so I guess it has helped us." 

 

A moratorium could help Starkville prevent billboard overcrowding, too. 

 

Starkville Community Development Director Buddy Sanders said there's no more room for billboards along Highway 12.  

 

Starkville has 11 billboards, most of which are along Highway 12, and the city has a pending application for a billboard at the intersection of Stark Road and Highway 182. 

 

Sanders said only a few places remain in the city for billboards, with room for less than five each along highways 25 and 82. 

 

 

 

Ordinances 

 

According to Columbus's city ordinance, the ban prevents any new off-premise advertising (billboards) from being constructed. The ban does not include already-existing billboards and allows the altering of advertisements or messages on those billboards without requiring a permit. Normal maintenance and repair, including painting and cleaning is also allowed without a permit from the city. 

 

City Building Official Kenneth Wiegel said changes such as replacing a traditional billboard face with a digital one requires a permit from the city. He said that has only happened with two billboards, both on the west side of Highway 45. 

 

Wiegel also noted that, moratorium notwithstanding, billboards are only permitted in C-3 commercial highway zones. Beyond that, he said, the city doesn't have size or spacing regulations, but he said any billboards have to comply with the Mississippi Department of Transportation's regulations. 

 

MDOT requires 500 feet between normal billboards and 1,000 feet for digital ones. 

 

Starkville's city code requires 2,640 feet between billboards. Billboards have to be at least 50 feet away from a public right-of-way and cannot be more than 45 feet tall with a maximum signage area of 288 square feet.