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May 7, 2005 | South Carolina Headlines


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City heeds billboard warning
Ralph Bristol
April 5, 2005

It’s not that Greenville’s city fathers don’t like billboards. It’s just that they don’t like billboards that are too high, too big or too close to parks, cemeteries, homes or downtown.  Billboards are okay as long as they are not too obvious. Of course, unless a billboard is obvious, it won’t be much use as an advertising venue, will it?


The city has an ordinance that prohibits billboards that are too this and too that, but some billboards existed before the ordinance, so those billboards have been allowed to stay. That is going to end. 


On Monday, the city council gave initial approval to another ordinance that gives the billboard companies six years to tear down the offending signs. The ordinance also says the city has no obligation to compensate the billboard companies for lost revenue. 


The city took quick action because the state legislature threw up a huge warning sign. It drafted and began to consider legislation that would require local governments to pay owners to remove billboards from city or county roads unless a rule is already in place saying they don't have to.


In general, city governments may be oppressive, but they aren’t stupid. When the state says, “we’re going to require you to compensate someone for taking his property unless you first pass an ordinance that says you don’t have to,” most city officials are alert enough to take the hint.  


Greenville took the hint and rushed to pass the ordinance. Now, the only question for fair-minded people is whether such a move is oppressive. Terry Graves, general manager for Fairway Outdoor Advertising, certainly thinks it is. "Basically they're taking our property," he said.  Billboards cost between $15,000 and $45,000 to erect, Graves said, and his company's advertising rates range from $550 to $2,500 a month.


The business that Graves and others will lose was established legally, under existing rules. Now, the rules will change, and deprive his company of some pretty significant revenue.  Moreover, it’s not being done for reasons of public health or safety, but strictly for aesthetics.  City officials would rather people see the trees, the buildings and cemetery plots, rather than advertising.


It’s natural that people in the advertising business would take offense and find it oppressive that governments would tear down their property and deprive them of revenue so that people can see more “attractive” property.


As a broadcaster and website owner, I compete with Fairway for advertising dollars.  I don’t need help from the city of Greenville, thank you.


Is “oppressive” too strong a word for this action?  First, place yourself in Terry Graves’ shoes. Then answer the question.

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