Knox steps toward keeping vinyl billboards from going digital

11:35 PM, Jan 28, 2013   |    comments
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Knox County took a preliminary vote Monday in favor of banning the conversion of existing vinyl billboards to digital.

Commissioners decided to defer the decision to ban all future vinyl and digital billboards by 90 days.

Commissioner Richard Briggs was the sponsor of all the resolutions. He opened the meeting by announcing he intended to withdraw them. 

Over the course of several months commissioners say they've received more than 400 emails from constituents supporting the bans.

But Briggs said when he weighed that input against the interests of small businesses who either profit from billboard displays or sell them, he decided new regulations may be preferable to outright bans.

It will be up to the Metropolitan Planning Commission, once again, to craft resolutions to put before the commission.

Briggs and several others expressed interest in crafting a 'use on review' law.

That may mean billboard companies could apply for a new sites, but they'd have to justify their need and the public could have a chance to weigh in.

Since banning the conversion of vinyl billboards to digital would be creating or changing laws, it must be passed by commission twice. Chairman Tony Briggs says it will go back before commissioners next month.

But their decision to delay voting on the other two measures sparked frustration from  billboard industry representatives.

Nearly five years ago Knox County issued a moratorium on any new billboards going up, and advertisers say it's hurt them.

Outdoor Displays Inc. co-owner Russell Amanns says he feels like commissions opposition to billboards is rooted in safety concerns over digital displays.

But he says they've taken the entire industry hostage.

"I'm a small business guy. We've not been able to put up any signs in Knox County. Zero new signs," says Amanns.

The Vice President of Lamar Advertising, the county's largest billboard supplier, called on commissioners to make all-or-nothing decision.

"You know the time has come. It will be five years, my understanding- it will be five years in May. Five years, that we have been waiting," said Brian Conley, becoming increasingly exasperated. "The opposition has been waiting, we've all been waiting. It's time to do something. That's what I think."

Several speakers in favor of the ban supported commissioners taking more time to "get it right."

Scenic Knoxville President Joyce Feld was pleased with the step toward keeping further digital billboards from cropping up.

She says their compromise is evident in the 11 digital displays that already exist, and would have been grandfathered in.

She would be open she says to the potential for a 'use on review' compromise, because it would allow the public's opinion to be considered in the approval of new billboards.

Here's how they voted on the issue of banning the conversion of vinyl to digital:

McKenzie: yes, Broyles: yes, Ownby: no, Briggs: yes, Anders: no, Smith: no, Wright: no, Brown: yes, Hammond: absent, Shouse: yes, Norman: yes.

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