Bigger billboard creates visible fallout

Bigger billboard creates visible fallout

June 1st, 2011 by Jennifer Bardoner in Community Downtown

A large electronic billboard going up at the intersection of Gunbarrel and East Brainerd roads may not be the only resultant public advertising out of the City Council's recent decision to not enforce its Scenic Corridor policy after a mistake by a city employee granted Fairway permission to upgrade its existing billboard there.

East Brainerd resident Roger Meyer, who "was very disappointed in the outcome," said he would like to start an awareness campaign called "Stop the BS (Billboard Signs)" about the use of billboards and their effects on communities.

"To me every billboard I've ever seen was tacky and trashed the area," he said. "Just be aware of that and be aware that this is not done for our benefit, but for the benefit of the company putting the signs up as well as the company trying to sell something."

Under the Scenic Corridor ordinance, which covers the area from Concord Road to the county line, as well as other areas throughout the city, billboards cannot be changed or added, only maintained. Billboards not located in defined scenic corridors may be upgraded to the next largest sign size.

"We said we don't want any more in East Brainerd, Hixson and other places, but we will swap off and open 153," explained Councilman Jack Benson, who represents the area. "They all ran and put billboards on 153 and were happy. Now they're wanting to get back on the scenics."

Fairway Outdoor Advertising local manager Barry Asmann said his company has "adhered to all the laws."

"We thought we were doing everything by the rules," he said. "A billboard was there and the ordinance as we understand it allows you to upgrade an existing sign to the next standard size sign. We feel we have the right to build that sign."

The sign, even once upgraded, will still be smaller than many of the existing ones down Gunbarrel, he said.

The situation has already created a public eyesore for the city, which voted by a 5-4 margin to not fight the issue in court once it was realized. Benson has tried several times to use the issue to get the Council to vote to "enforce the law equally throughout the city for all scenic corridor routes."

"We've got to support our own ordinances," Benson said. "It looked like we just laid down and did not get the law enforced equally. Our community would not have been upset if we had just shown any evidence of trying to go to the lowest court."

Although issuing a stop-work order for the site, the city withdrew once Fairway took the issue - and a several hundred thousand dollar claim - to Chancery Court. Taking that as a sign that the process could prove expensive, the resultant vote to let it drop makes all the ongoing fallout a moot point, said Councilman Peter Murphy, but not for everyone involved.

"Many citizens out there feel faith has been broken," said Benson. "[Fairway] is saying if you let us do the wrong thing here we won't do the wrong thing anyplace else. I just can't go along with that."

Fairway owns approximately 20 other billboards throughout the city and has reportedly promised to not try and upgrade those within scenic corridors, he said.