sam's notes

notes on government, sports and popular culture

Monday, August 16, 2004

The Reason Public Policy Institute has a blog,Out of Control, which I like to check put from time to time because it has some interesting stuff.

The August post, entitled the Ban Wagon, lists the different things and activities under assault from various local governments around the country. I click on the billboards link, and, lo and behold, is the News & Record's coverage of Guilford County's scenic corridor ordinance. Somebody's watching.

To tell the truth, I'm a bit confused by the N&R's coverage of the issue. As you well know, I was at the county planning board meeting where the scenic corridor ordinance was discussed. Several members of the billboard industry spoke out against the ordinance, as well as many members of the business community in general. In spite of those protestations, the planning board voted 7-0 to recommend the ordinance.

In the N&R's opinion, this represents a victory for the billboard industry. The county ordinance was not an outright ban, like the one the city adopted two years ago. The N&R won't be happy until that happens.

"There are times when the public good outweighs a landowner's right to use property as he sees fit. Banning billboards along the Urban Loop is one of those times- doing so will make the road safer and more pleasant to travel," the paper writes in today's lead editorial. Ooooohhhh.

This isn't the first time the N&R has had a bizarre take on the issue. A couple of months ago, tobacco farmer Pat Short brought a straight rezoning case before the county, requesting his land be designated light industrial, which, under current zoning regulations, allows billboards. Mind you, a county scenic corridor ordinance, at that time, was still on the drawing board. The county commissioners approved the rezoning, but the headline in the N&R read, "County to allow signs on corridor."

I've driven across the country and back three times, not to mention all around North Carolina. Not one time have I ever been offended or distracted by a billboard. Anyone who allows a billboard to distract him while going 80 mph down the road ought not be on the road. To paraphrase planning board member Larry Proctor, it's not a "scenic corridor," it's an interstate highway. I'll make the argument that drivers are more likely to be lulled into inattentiveness by nature's beauty than by billboards.

What's hilarious is the N&R seems relieved that the county commissioners will have the final say on the issue. Which county commissioners are they talking about? Not the same ones who downright embarrassed themselves at their last meeting, I hope.

The thing is, the ordinance more than likely will have trouble passing, anyway. Skip Alston, as a lobbyist for the billboard industry, will have to abstain, setting up a possible 5-5 vote. I can't imagine any Republican voting for this, which would kill it right there. Furthermore, it's hard to predict which way Chairman Bob Landreth will go, and Mike Barber at least has an ear tuned to business interests.

The county is just trying to make everybody happy. If the commissioners vote down this ordinance, it will delay the process even further.


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