Billboards aren't scenic, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield says

Billboards aren't scenic, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield says

January 18th, 2012 by Cliff Hightower and Ansley Haman in News

Workers install a new billboard on Volkswagen Drive. The billboard is one of three being installed next to the road.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

Billboards are popping up alongside a new but unopened stretch of Volkswagen Drive and Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield says the city's plan for a "scenic corridor" has been "degraded."

But there's nothing he can do to stop it.

"The most disturbing point in the matter is that the area now being degraded would have been protected if not for resistance and delay in the city's annexation plans," Littlefield, who is out of town, said in an email. "In settling the lawsuits, annexation of the area in question does not become effective until the end of this year."

East-West Media, based in Athens, Tenn., is erecting three billboards east of exit 9 along the Volkswagen Drive extension to Apison Pike near its intersection with Old Lee Highway. On Dec. 6, the county issued permits for three new signs.

"We've done everything in compliance," said East-West's Bobby Mizer.

The city voted almost two years ago to annex the land, but the property will not become part of Chattanooga until the end of 2012 after a settlement was reached with residents of the area.

Littlefield questioned whether the billboards meet the county's setback and spacing regulations. The county says they do.

"The measurements were checked by Building and Zoning, and they are correct," said Mike Dunne, county spokesman. "The billboards are zoned correctly, according to county standards."

Dunne said county officials made four trips to the location.

"They have been diligent in making sure all the t's are crossed and i's are dotted," he said. "The Building and Zoning department has a letter from the state certifying they have no objection to the billboards, which are on a state route."

Steve Leach, Chattanooga's administrator for Public Works, admitted the city's hands are tied and the signs would be grandfathered in after the area comes into the city.

"It's sort of up to the county," he said.

But he said city officials think the signs are out of compliance. He said county codes specifically call for signs to be 750 feet apart. He said city code inspectors measured two signs on the south side of Interstate 75 and they fell under the 750 foot mark. Another sign lies on the north end of the road.

"You go out there and it measures 500 feet," he said.

He said the city did not measure the setbacks from the road, but "they look awfully close."

Councilman Jack Benson, who will represent the area when it is annexed, said he wanted to see the city and the county work together to enforce the codes.

He said the county could stop the signs from going up, and then the city could make sure they don't pop up again because the city has more stringent codes.

"They wouldn't be grandfathered in if the county wouldn't let them put them up," he said.

But Benson also acknowledged there is a lack of support from the county.

"They don't care," he said. "We do."

County Commissioner Chester Bankston, whose district includes Ooltewah, said he's heard critical rumblings from people in Collegedale.

"It's not listed as a scenic highway," Bankston said, admitting he hasn't yet seen the new signs. "I don't see any problem with [the billboards]."

Collegedale City Manager Ted A. Rogers said the signs are outside the town's jurisdiction and that he had no official opinion about them.

Bankston said he assumed the property was already in the city because a Chattanooga city limits sign located east of the site on the westbound side of Apison Pike.

Littlefield said the city amended its scenic corridor plan several months ago to include the Volkswagen Drive extension.

"The city has worked very hard to maintain a high quality of unspoiled scenic beauty along the entire length of Volkswagen Drive and throughout Enterprise South," Littlefield wrote. "We took action months ago to extend scenic corridor restrictions along other major thoroughfares in an effort to protect the entire area being impacted by growth pressures due to Volkswagen, Amazon and the significant but older economic development investments of US Xpress, etc."

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