Environment, Legislature

The billboard bill is back and ready to cut down some trees

A map on the Lamar outdoor advertising company website shows all of the billboard inventory in the North Carolina. (Screenshot: Lamar.com)

Because nothing says a trip to the North Carolina mountains like a brigade of billboards asking you if a) you’ve been drinking, b) are pregnant, or c) in despair.

Hangry? Other billboards are luring you to try a salt bomb, aka a Catfish Feast, from the fast food franchise Captain D’s. Broke from spending a weekend in overpriced hotel? Then you won’t mind a Pawn Plus outdoor ad intruding on the majestic beauty of Blue Ridge Mountains.

House Bill 645, the billboard bill, has been resurrected after two years’ of dormancy. It pits an outdoor advertiser’s “right to be clearly viewed” against local governments’ authority to regulate the siting of billboards. And arguably, if a dead billboard has rights, then living trees should have rights, too.

The legislation is very similar to the measure that was floated in 2017 — and sank on second reading. It allows tree cutting and pruning for each sign face 500 feet horizontal distance parallel to the right of way. Since some outdoor advertising companies often line up their billboards in multiples, that’s a minimum of 1,000 feet.

Although the bill language doesn’t specifically mention digital billboards, as did its 2017 counterpart, they are implicit in the definition of “any outdoor sign, display, light, device … or any other thing” intended to advertise or inform. (Emphasis mine.) Digital billboards

DOT would be required to fairly compensate the billboard owner if the sign had to be removed. And if the billboard were to be relocated, it would have to be within 660 feet of the nearest edge of the right-of-a-way of an interstate or a federally funded primary highway, which could include state roads, such as NC 147 in Durham.

Durham already has strict billboard regulations and has banned digital outdoor advertising. The bill would supersede all local ordinances.

The bill also would preserve “to the extent possible,” native dogwoods and redbuds.

The US billboard industry grew by 2 percent in 2018 — far outpacing other traditional advertising avenues. But online advertising, according to IBISWorld.com, “will continue to siphon revenue from traditional industry displays.”

Nonetheless, there are at least 370,000 billboards operating nationwide, with 15,000 new ones erected each year, according to a November 2018 article in The Hustle. The same article quotes Betsy McLarney, founder of an ad agency, EMC Outdoor, as saying, “People used to think that billboards were over-saturation. But digital is like being in Times Square at all times.”

Because nothing says a trip to the mountains like the frenetic overstimulation of Times Square.

2 Comments


  1. Michael Baysden

    May 1, 2019 at 7:45 am

    If there is legislation on this it needs to include the land owner. They should describe all effects the billboard has on property it is located on. I suggest all agreements need to be reviewed by an attorney for the land owner.

  2. Bill Johnson

    May 9, 2019 at 10:54 am

    So we are supposed to cut down the citizens of North Carolina’s trees along our controlled access highways and allowl lighted flashing changeable message digital billboards for drivers to look at who are going 75-85 mph? The interstate highway system is not Times Square. Digital billboards have absolutely no place on high speed highways.

    No billboard company has any right to cut down our roadside trees and mow the area into the ground slashing down our dogwoods, redbuds, and sourwood trees and native wildflowers.

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