|Houston County Courier - Local News
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Should They Stay Or Should They Go?
By Alton Porter
Crockett City Council members got involved in a lengthy discussion on whether to end a moratorium on the building of billboards and to permit new off-premises signs in the city and ended up tabling the matter at a regular meeting of the council on Monday, April 3. The item on the meeting's agenda relating to the matter called for members of the council to consider and approve an ordinance that would amend Chapter 13, Sections 13-201 and 13-209 of the city's Code of Ordinances, the chapter and sections that has to do with licenses and business regulations. If amended, the ordinance would "permit new off-premises signs and require a specific use permit for each sign. In addition, the amended ordinance would not require the removal of signs. Mayor Robert Meadows noted that the city currently has a moratorium on new billboard and the amendment of Section 13-201 would effectively lift that ban. Precinct 1 Councilmember Jeannie Julian made it clear she is against ending the moratorium because she doesn't want to see anymore billboards go up in Crockett. In bringing the matter before the councilmembers for discussion, Meadows said, "In a nutshell, we've had a moratorium on new billboard construction for a number of years. There was just cause for that moratorium. "They (billboards) were popping up. It just seemed like everywhere you looked, there was a billboard. One thing I think that sort of got away from us (was the durability of some of them). And the proof was when we had those storms roll through during Hurricane Ike and the other. "The newer ones were built substandard. And that's just a fact, whether it's offensive to those who constructed them or not. The (storm) winds showed the ones that were built properly, according to state code. And the storms took out the ones that were not." Meadows added, "We did relieve the portion (of the code) that said you could not repair them beyond a certain percentage. I'm not sure how that was all calculated to begin with.... "I think, as a community, we're more focused on generating new business and opportunity and growing. I think, after discussing this with a number of people, … it would be beneficial for Crockett to repeal the moratorium and allow for new construction, with the guideline that these new billboards are built to the staterequired specifications. "I think that has to do with public safety, as well as it's just the law. They're supposed to be built to certain wind-resistant guidelines. I think, again, if you lived in Crockett during those storms, you saw the ones that were not built to standard. They were laying in ditches in pieces, scattered about." Julian followed Meadows in speaking on the matter. "I think they (billboards) are an eyesore. I think they detract from what we have. I'd rather see businesses in places where those billboards are. I think what we have now we should just keep and not detract from anymore." In answer to a question from Precinct 5 Councilmember Mike Marsh – "Who wants to put one up?" – Meadows said, "It's not as much an individual, but it's been the perception that we're not allowing new billboards to be built. That's what's been brought to my attention. It's that perception that we're not necessarily business friendly in regards to our outdoor advertising." Due to the moratorium that's in place, no one can even apply to construct a new billboard in the city, Meadows said. In answer to a question from Precinct 4 Councilmember Muriel Williams, Meadows said the only revenue the city receives pertaining to a billboard is a permit fee when application is made to construct it. Meadows said most of the billboard space currently in the city is already blocked down by businesses, "so there's no opportunity for some other business to get a billboard space." Relating to the position Julian voiced, Meadows noted there is a need to carefully regulate and verify the spacing of billboards, which he said is set forth by federal guidelines. "Because of the ones (billboards) that were wiped out and never replaced during that series of storms and the fact that we know two of them are coming down soon, it (allowing new billboards) is an opportunity, as long as we keep a handle on it...," Meadows said. To that, Marsh responded, "The only way I'd go for it is if there's some way we could put in there that it can't be a 10-year contract (for the lease of a billboard). It can only be a (one-)year contract. Because, like the ones out there between Walmart and the bank, if you get a 10-year contract on it, that land is locked up." Julian added, "Right, then, no one can build on it, nor can buy it. You're stuck with billboards. And, actually, when you drive down the highway, you're not looking a billboards, anyway. You'd better be looking at the highway." Reiterating his concern about comments suggesting there's a perception the city is not business friendly, Meadows said the city should want to change that image for such businesses as the Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram of Crockett auto dealership which is coming soon. "They would want billboards," he said. "And if the billboards that we currently have are tied up with contracts, they'll have no opportunity other than to build one on their own site. But, they're already there. (That would) help, but not to the extent that it would if it was on the other side of the Loop directing them over (to the business). That's just where we are. "And if you'd like us to look into the legalities of whether we can have that (one-year limitation) put in a contract, we can take a look." The council is expected to take the matter up again at a future meeting.