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Visual pollution or advertising? County to consider new billboard rules

November 14, 2010

In 2006, El Paso County became first in the state to allow electronic billboards — giant, high-in-the-sky screens with illuminated color messages that change frequently.

Today, the county has five, more than the rest of the state, in total. But the county’s sign regulations haven’t addressed the new form of advertising, until now.

The county Planning Commission will hear proposed regulations for electronic billboards at 9 a.m. Tuesday at Pikes Peak Regional Development Center, 2880 International Circle. The meeting is open to the public.

The new regulations include:

• Clarification about altering or expanding existing billboards;

• New requirements, including public hearings, for new electronic or mechanical billboards;

• New timing requirements for billboard messages that change;

• Limits on nighttime brightness.

During the past four years, county officials have fielded numerous complaints about some of the electronic billboards, said county spokesman Dave Rose. Some drivers have complained that the signs can be distracting, Rose said, and neighbors living near the billboards have protested the brightness of the digital displays.
County officials worked with the local Lamar Outdoor Advertising to address the concerns, Rose said.

Hal Ward, Lamar’s general manager, said he’s pleased with the new regulations.

“It was a consensus between the outdoor advertising industry, the advertising community and concerned citizens that have a different view of signs,” he said. “Nobody gets everything they want, but I think all parties are fairly well satisfied.”

But Gary Bradley, president of the Colorado Mountain Reclamation Foundation, said the revisions aren’t restrictive enough.

Bradley said electronic billboards “pollute the visual quality of life” and should not be permitted on tourist corridors and should have maximum distances from neighborhoods, parks and open space land.

“We need reasonable parameter controls, and we should not open the flood gates to more (electronic) signs,” Bradley said.

Larry Barrett, a board member of Scenic Colorado, said while the proposed rules offer some improvement, such as decreasing brightness and sign sizes, they fail to reduce impacts on motorist safety and community appearance.

The proposed revisions are “too permissive” and “would allow electronic message displays that are too numerous, too large and too distracting,” said Barrett, whose group recommends that El Paso County prohibit new electronic billboards from being installed.

The city and county of Denver did so in March. Denver has four digital signs.

After the Planning Commission approves or denies the proposed changes, County Commissioners will consider giving final approval.

Commissioner Jim Bensberg asked at a recent meeting that new regulations be resolved before he and Commissioner Wayne Williams vacate their seats in January.

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