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Local versus state rights central in billboard debate

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SALT LAKE CITY — Electronic billboards are at the center of a debate over state versus local control.

Utah lawmakers are considering legislation to allow outdoor advertisers to convert their current signs to electronic ones. Cities and counties say regulation of billboards should be left to them. While municipalities concede the state has jurisdiction over interstates, they say surface streets are their purview.

Also, there are questions about how a brightly lit 14- by 48-foot billboard impacts a neighborhood.

Members of the House Transportation Committee wrestled with those issues Thursday while discussing HB87.

"It's really an uncomfortable situation because we really come down on the side of local control but we have to balance that with private property rights," said Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton.

The committee unanimously voted to advance to the bill to the House floor with the understanding that its sponsor, Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville, would work with the outdoor advertising industry and the Utah League of Cities and Towns to find some agreement.

"There will be negotiations continuing. Whether this is a final product or not depends on if those negotiations lead to any solutions," Brown said.

It's really an uncomfortable situation because we really come down on the side of local control but we have to balance that with private property rights.

–Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton.

HB87 would allow outdoor advertisers to put electronic messages on their billboards under certain criteria, including brightness standards, a curfew, intervals between messages and distance from homes. The specifics of some of those provisions are still being worked out. It also spells out how local governments may use eminent domain to remove signs.

"We're not asking for new signs," said Michael Wardle, of Young Electric Sign Co. "We just want to be able to modernize our existing signs."

A nearly identical bill, SB136 sponsored by Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, is making its way through the Senate. He said the major sticking point is jurisdiction over surface streets.

"We see that there needs to be some protection" for outdoor advertisers, he said. "We also see there needs to be some local control."

Utah League of Cities and Towns representative Jodi Hoffman told the committee that local governments should regulate surface streets. She said HB87 does not contain provisions various stakeholders had agreed on.

"We just thought we were further along in getting consensus than we were," he said.

West Jordan Mayor Melissa Johnson said the bill is too broad. It applies standards that might not be applicable in every city, she said. Also, she said a state law removes residents' opportunity to have a say on billboards in their communities.

Dewey Reagan, president of Reagan Outdoor Advertising, argued for uniform state standards. The bill, he said, would impose brightness and distance restrictions to keep electronic signs from being a nuisance in neighborhoods.


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Dennis Romboy


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