The future looks bright—but that might just be the abundance of lit-up advertisements popping up around the country. Environmental nonprofit Scenic Nevada is one of many groups under the umbrella of Scenic America fighting against an influx of digital billboards (“Bright blights,” Feb. 9). In order to prevent these billboards from taking over Nevada’s streets, Scenic Nevada must go head to head with the advertising companies.
The last digital billboard workshop held by the Reno City Council was in April, at which three ordinances were submitted—one drafted by the council which was released in June on Scenic Nevada’s website, and two from Clear Channel Outdoor and Saunders Outdoor Advertising.
“We don’t know how it’s going to come out,” says Lori Wray, Scenic Nevada board member. “We made suggestions and went to a stakeholders meeting in June. The meeting lasted for two hours. We walked away a little confused, but a little encouraged because they seemed to listen. But our questions have not been answered yet. The billboard industry did what it likes to do which is remove restrictions, and Nevada did what it likes to do which is put on restrictions.”
One of Scenic Nevada’s suggestions was to not allow billboards, digital or not, in historic districts.
“That seemed to be accepted by everyone, so we might not see that, which would be good,” says Wray.
However, Scenic Nevada hopes that the next step is to close down the “billboard bank” loophole, which allows billboard companies to take down a bill board and bank the receipt, and put the board up again when a new location becomes available.
“The City Council keeps saying that they want to allow digital billboards to remove clutter by reusing the boards already there,” Wray says. “But if you do this, there has to be a way to keep the boards out of cleared areas in the near future, but that’s not in the ordinance drafts, from what we’ve seen.”
Billboard companies can also take another route by applying for a special exception permit which can be granted by the City Council. This includes billboards proposed “within 1,000 lineal feet of a primary or secondary school classroom building or a residentially zones and used parcel on the same side of the street,” according to the city ordinance draft
For Scenic Nevada, preventing digital billboards is as much about public safety as it is about protecting the wilderness. In a letter to the city council, Scenic Nevada board member John Hara wrote, “Billboard messages are meant to be read in one to four seconds. So, how is this increasing our roadway safety when an driver’s eyes are pulled off the road for one, two, three or four seconds?”
The digital billboard issue persists in counties throughout the country. Salt Lake City stopped allowing digital billboards in 2011. In May, residents of Murray, Utah fought against digital billboards and the city council refused billboard company Reagan Outdoor Advertising’s application to upgrade a regular board to an electronic one. Reagan Outdoor Advertising filed a lawsuit against the city council.
An appeal filed by Scenic Nevada will be presented at a public hearing on July 11, 6 p.m. at city hall.