Billboard Tree-Cutting Bill Heads To House Floor

Jun 13, 2011

Billboard owners in North Carolina would like the ability to cut down more trees so their signs are more visible from the road. Cities and towns want final say on the tree-cutting, but a measure scheduled for debate in the state House tonight would bypass local authority on the matter. Since the measure was first introduced by the billboard industry a few months back, it has seen major changes. Gone is a provision that could have led to a proliferation of new digital billboards across the state. The bill now focuses exclusively on how much tree trimming billboard companies can do. "At least 20 percent of all billboards in North Carolina are so blocked by vegetation you can't read them," says Tony Adams of the North Carolina Outdoor Advertising Association. "We don't think that's fair." State senators have already signed off on the measure which adds about 100 feet to the area billboard owners are allowed to cut down trees. The measure (SB 183) applies only to the swath of state-owned land along highways and interstates. Cities - like Charlotte - that have tree-trimming ordinances would not get a say on where billboard companies can cut. Currently the state Department of Transportation defers to local ordinances. Eliminating that local approval is the main reason the North Carolina League of Municipalities is against the bill. "Ultimately what those billboards look like - where they are, how many there are, vegetation around them - impacts quality of life of local communities and how local communities look and feel," says Paul Meyer of the North Carolina League of Municipalities. "People come to NC for the beautiful scenery and wonderful small towns we have, not to see billboards," says Ben Hitchings of the North Carolina Chapter of the American Planning Association. But, the billboard association's Tony Adams says visitors won't know what North Carolina's small towns have to offer unless they can see billboards pointing the way.