Bills would allow non-conforming billboards to be re-located, re-built

Vernie Smith makes his case with reference to a model of a non-conforming billboard 

In public hearings of the Assembly and Senate Transportation Committees, Vernie Smith spoke on behalf of Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin in opposition to the bills. The subjects of the hearings were two bills that benefit the outdoor advertising industry – weakening the authority of municipalities to regulate billboards and weakening state rules on “non-conforming” billboards. Vernie was accompanied by fellow Scenic Wisconsin members Rich Eggleston and president Gary Goyke. They counter-acted advocacy for the bills by well-funded Outdoor Advertising executives and their lobbyist.   

The first bill, AB594/SB496, would allow reconstructing or relocating non-conforming billboards that   lose visibility or must be removed entirely because of a highway improvement project. (The intent of state and local laws for billboards that are non-conforming under the law is that they are to be eliminated eventually, not re-built, certainly not re-located.) The billboard interests argued that the bill would save the state and municipalities costs of condemnation and buy-out. Vernie argued that municipal sign and billboard ordinances have no-doubt resulted in lower, smaller and fewer billboards which are requiring less-costly buyouts.

The other bill AB595/SB495, would allow “limited” reconstruction, “temporary” enlargement and addition of safety features like catwalks to billboards that don’t conform to state law. The title of the bill is “relating to removal of outdoor advertising signs”. Vernie argued that the bill was not about removal of signs, but about preservation and perpetuation of signs. He said that the Highway Beautification Act did not intend that billboards be indefinitely rebuilt. He said adding size to billboards violated the act. He had a model of an older, non-conforming billboard in which he switched out the parts, making one “single repair” after another until all posts had been replaced and the face had been replaced. He demonstrated that it had become a completely new billboard in an illegal location – a location where a company would not be allowed to site a new billboard.

Also on this same subject, Charley Weeth has sent strongly worded emails with comprehensive arguments against these bills to the legislators who sponsored them.       

These bills were not put on the agenda of “executive sessions” of the transportation committees, effectively “tabling” them. So far, so good for scenery, although the legislative year is not over until March.  
5 Dec 2017