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Lamar and Knox County talk billboard compromise

12:24 AM, Nov 30, 2012   |    comments
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The vice president of the largest billboard company in Knoxville told Knox County commissioners Thursday that Lamar Advertising is willing to compromise on new laws regulating signs countywide.

The debate has gone on for weeks as local officials decide whether to ban new billboards, digital billboards, and electronic messaging centers.

Lamar Advertising VP Brian Conley invited officials to a sit down negotiation at the commissioner's work session Thursday.

"As Lamar, I'm here to tell you we're willing to compromise," said Conley. "We understand there is room for regulation."

Commissioners hope to get new laws on the books by the time the existing billboard moratorium expires in January.

It has already been extended several times.

The latest idea up for discussion Thursday was "cap and replace."

Commissioner Mike Hammond brought idea up as a way to compromise. The proposal could take several variations.

Advertisers could be permitted to a remove low performing billboard in favor of erecting another in a different location, giving the industry the ability to follow development.

County officials could also agree to allow advertisers to update existing vinyl billboards with the latest electronic ones, in exchange for the removal of several others.

This version of cap and replace would ultimately diminish the numbers of billboards over time.

Several industry insiders told commissioners that the laws are unnecessary.

Knox County already has rules in place that limit the proximity and placement of billboards, and advertisers say most of the legal spots are already taken.

"We're ok with no more billboards," said Commissioner Mike Brown. "The meat of it is going to be what we do with what we've got."

Conley did not say which type of compromise Lamar is willing to consider.

Billboard opponents say the numbers show the county has already compromised enough.

According to the county there are 188 billboard structures in unincorporated Knox County.

Some have more than one side, for a total of 402 faces.

Knox County and Knoxville have a combined 878 billboard faces.

Commissioner Richard Briggs, who sponsored the billboard ban, says that's enough.

 "It's where they want to do the conversions. In the rural areas, where you have views of the mountains and the lakes, I really wouldn't want to do a cap and switch on those," says Briggs. "In the urban areas, you know I'm willing to listen to hear what they have to say."

But taking a hardline with the billboard industry could mean future lawsuits.

According to the county law department, the City of Knoxville is already being sued by Lamar for laws they passed in 2001 banning electronic billboards.

The lawsuit has been ongoing since 2006.

Knox County commissioners hope to finally reach a compromise in January.

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