HB 304/SB 320 is the third attempt in as many years by the billboard industry to make sweeping changes to the current rules for outdoor advertising uses (billboards). This legislation limits the state’s ability to regulate billboards, requires taxpayers to pay more for removal of an existing billboard, binds the General Assembly to preservation of billboards, and allows the conversion of over 5,000 billboards to new digital signs statewide.
The proposed legislation is opposed by the League of Municipalities, the NC Planning Association, the NC Sierra Club, and Scenic North Carolina. It is also strongly opposed by 68% of NC voters surveyed by Scenic North Carolina in early April, 2015.
We ask that legislators protect the scenic beauty of North Carolina, protect local authority to determine community appearance, and protect our tax payers from increased costs.
KEY FEATURES OF THE LEGISLATION
1. Billboards Gain Unprecedented Authority to Remain and Relocate
The bill includes new policy language that requires the General Assembly to preserve and foster outdoor advertising. The NCDOT could no longer deny a billboard permit application because it does not comply with local development regulations, nor could it deny a permit for a billboard proposed outside a commercial or industrial area (under the bill’s proposed “customary use” doctrine). Neither the NCDOT nor a local government could deny the ability of an existing billboard to relocate to a more visible area in the same city or county, even if the proposed location has significant tree cover. NCDOT would be required to decide all new billboard permit applications within 30 days, or they are automatically approved.
2. More Intensive Advertising
The bill prohibits local governments from regulating the maintenance, alteration, relocation, or reconstruction of an existing billboard (even if it is nonconforming) without payment of just compensation. The alteration provision allows existing billboards to add a second sign face (if only one‐sided), increase height to 80 feet, convert from wooden poles to a steel monopole, and to be converted to a digital sign face which may change every eight seconds. No nonconforming land use in the state is allowed such latitude to expand or be reconfigured. In addition, the bill excludes “embellishments” or “extended advertising” from maximum sign face area measurement, allowing even more advertising per sign.
3. Higher Costs for Billboard Removal
The bill includes new requirements and criteria for the payment of just compensation for the removal of a billboard. Payments must be made not just for the value of the real property but also for the value of the future revenue stream. This gives billboard owners a right afforded to no other property owner in the state, and will place further strain on the state’s transportation budget. In addition, local governments will be required to pay just compensation even when billboard removal is part of an application for development on the same site, further exacerbating local revenue shortfalls.
4. More Vegetation Removal
The bill expands the area that may be cleared of vegetation for increased visibility from just acceleration and deceleration lanes to any “other areas of the primary highway system,” including medians. The bill allows for the removal of dogwoods (our state flower) and redbuds (subject to new replanting requirements). Billboard owners no longer have to wait two years for a vegetation clearing permit, and may be issued one immediately, and permit terms have been increased from one year to three years.
This bill is currently in House and Senate Committees for review. PLEASE contact your representatives right away and encourage them to oppose this legislation.