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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

N.C. DOT holds public hearing Tuesday on new billboard law

Posted by on Tue, Dec 13, 2011 at 9:23 AM

The N.C. Department of Transportation will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 13, regarding a new state law that allows billboard companies and other outdoor advertisers to clear more trees around their signs.

The law has already been passed. But members of the public can now weigh in on how billboard owners should contribute to planting new trees, shrubs and other vegetation on the sides and medians of highways to help make up for what they removed.

Previous rules allowed billboard owners to trim trees within 250 feet of their signs to allow a clear view from roadways. The new state law, which took effect Sept. 1, maintains the 250-foot maximum on locally controlled roads or highways within city limits. But advertisers may now cut a swath up to 340 feet in front of signs on interstates and state-controlled access roads, even if they're inside city limits. Outside of city limits, the cutting zone expands to 380 feet. (Read an analysis from the N.C. League of Municipalities that summarizes the changes, PDF)

Early versions of the bill, which was passed last summer by the N.C. General Assembly, would have overruled local ordinances, including those banning digital billboards. But thanks to outcry from the public, the N.C. League of Municipalities and environmental groups, language that would have taken away local rights on signage were stripped from the bill before it passed.

Under the new law, billboard companies still must also follow local ordinances, such as those governing sign appearance and tree preservation. When they start cutting out trees, the billboard companies must also submit plans to the N.C. DOT to install new plants to compensate for the ones they removed.

How these plants will be replaced, and how close they have to be to the site that was cleared appears to be determined. According to a public hearing notice, the the N.C. DOT has to establish temporary rules on how to comply with the new law, including the replanting program, and it's on those temporary rules that the N.C. DOT is seeking public input.

Once established, the N.C. DOT will enforce the temporary rules while working on longer-term permanent guidelines.

The public and elected leaders across the state can chime in between now and Dec. 23 with input into how these billboard companies should compensate for tree-cutting, including what types of plants they should be required to replace.

Tuesday's hearing will be held in room 100A of Wake Commons, 4011 Carya Drive, in Raleigh.

Can't make the hearing? The public may submit comments to Helen Landi, 1501 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C., 27699-1501, fax them to (919) 733-9150, or email Landi at hlandi@ncdot.gov.

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Billboard companies may cut more trees, but also must plant new vegetation, law says.

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