Members of the Fort Smith Board of Directors discussed outdoor advertising regulations at Monday's (March 12) noon study session, but the way some members of the Board and the crowd were talking, this may be the beginning of the end for billboards in Fort Smith.
Maggie Rice, Fort Smith's senior city planner, presented the Planning Commission's proposed recommendations that will be voted on as an ordinance at the Board's regularly scheduled March 27 meeting.
In designing the proposed ordinance, Rice said groups directly affected by potential changes were included in the process of developing new regulations.
"Since the joint Planning Commission and Board meeting, we had an additional meeting with the stakeholders and two planning commission meetings and these amendments are the result of the collaboration between the outdoor advertising representatives, the advertising agency representatives, the city attorney, the city staff and also the Planning Commission," she said.
In Rice's presentation, she discussed some of the issues addressed by the ordinance. They key points included (as detailed in a memorandum to city administrator Ray Gosack):
• The inclusion of the extraterritorial jurisdictional zoning districts;
• No outdoor advertising sign can be erected closer than 250-feet from any residentially-zoned or developed property;
• Sign size is limited to 300-square-feet on non-interstate streets and 378-square-feet on interstates;
• Signs can be larger than 378 but not exceed 672-square-feet with special approval of the Planning Commission and the removal of an equivalent sign square footage/credits from a proposed "sign bank";
• Establish specific criteria for digital signs;
• Allow 'V'-type signs;
• Establish minimum and maximum heights for signs;
• Establish a "sign bank" which establishes a "cap and replace" program, which would not allow a sign to be installed unless a currently-installed sign is removed;
• Establish regulations for non-conforming signs; and
• Allowing for conversion of static, or non-digital signs, to digital and allowing for repairs of some non-conforming signs.
THE NEED FOR SIGNS
The fact that the sign bank would be established and maintain the current number of displays at approximately 187 outdoor advertising signs drew attention from at least one audience member, Kent Blochberger, who was asked to address the Board by Director Philip Merry.
"The concern I have is that there's a basic question I don't think the Board has asked yet. I think the planning commission and everybody's done a good job ... but the first question I think we need to ask is do we, in our community, want signs at all?" Blochberger asked.
He said he was concerned because he had not read or heard of any discussion that would eventually phase-out outdoor advertising, as he said had been done in other "progressive cities.”
"It seems to me that if we want to be a progressive city, and if we believe in quality of place, that's a question that we should ask them everytime something like this comes up," he said. "In the 35-years I've lived in Fort Smith, the sign issue comes up every 10 to 15 years and something very consistent happens — no signs are taken down and signs are added. That's reality. And at some point in time, I believe for our community and the Board to say in 15 years, or in 10 years, to say we don't want signs in certain places, we don't want them."
STEERING COMMITTEE DISCUSSION
Director Keith Lau said he thought the issue would be worth exploring, but not necessarily by the Board.
"I think that's a wonderful question for the Comprehensive Planning (Steering) Committee that we just appointed last night. That ought to be one of their topics of discussion in their upcoming review," he said.
Position 5 Director-at-Large Pam Weber said she had seen first-hand how a city can be prosperous and progressive without billboards, recounting a trip to Kansas City, Mo., several years back and noting that a billboard was nowhere to be found within the city limits.
She would like to eventually explore a phase-out of billboards, but at a later time.
Rice reiterated to Blochberger and Board members that having the sign bank in place, should the Board approve it as part of the ordinance during its March 27 vote, would eliminate the possibility of more signs by requiring an old sign to be dismantled when a new sign is installed.
LESS LIGHT POLLUTION
Rice also told Board members that as part of the new requirements to be voted on during the next meeting, electronic billboards would be required to automatically adjust brightness at different times of the day.
"It actually is not as bright as lighting a static (billboard)," Rice said.
In supplemental documents available to the public on the city's website, Dr. Ian Lewis of Lighting Sciences Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz., said the reason for the difference was due to the amount of light reflected directly into the atmosphere by bottom-mounted lighting on static billboards whereas digital billboards have no bottom-mounted lighting, therefore causing less "sky glow."
"This is a result of the elimination of the external luminaries and the direct sky lumens they produce, and also because of the design of digital billboards whereby less light from the billboard face is directed upward versus downward," he said.
Members of the Board also approved adding to the March 27 agenda:
• A vote on implementing priorities and a time frame as a result of the Water and Sewer Operations Efficiency Study; and
• A vote on recommendations by the Community Development Advisory Committee for the Year 39 CDBG and Year 20 HOME Program funding.