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County supervisors approve billboard advertising amendment

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PHOENIX — One wouldn’t think it would take years for a county board of supervisors to figure out how to amend a billboard ordinance.
However, with the thorny question of whether to allow digital commercial billboards along certain Maricopa County roadways, it took years to iron out.

And after the vote at the Nov. 17 Maricopa County Board of Supervisors meeting, some who spoke at the meeting said things might still not be ironed out.

By a unanimous 4-0 vote at the meeting, the supervisors approved an amendment that will allow off-site advertising billboards.

With a minimum zero-foot setback being the only thing added by Supervisor Bill Gates, who made the motion to approve the amendment, the change will allow digital advertising along select county roads.

Significant opposition to the amendment was voiced at the meeting and in the past.

The proposed change was listed on the planning and zoning consent agenda for an October meeting.

However, District 1 Supervisor and board chair Jack Sellers said the board received some “last-minute” questions about the proposed changes, and he recommended continuing the item to Nov. 17.

The move would restrict billboards in the county to being allowed along Interstate 17 south of Carefree Highway, Interstate 10, State Routes 101, 202 and 303, State Route 24, Northern Parkway, and U.S. 60 (the Superstition Freeway portion, in the East Valley).

Billboards are a prohibited use on any other freeway now existing or to be constructed within Maricopa County.

That includes the portion of U.S. 60, known as Grand Avenue, that runs from downtown Phoenix through the Sun Cities and Surprise out to Wickenburg.

Nine Valley municipalities have allowed digital billboards since a new set state law with guidelines took effect in 2012.

Last week, dozens of commenters — mostly opposed to some element of the latest plan draft — spoke at the meeting, usually by remote access.

One issue raised frequently was how close digital billboards can be to homes. The amendment approved by the supervisors includes only a 150-foot minimum distance from residential parcel boundaries or residential zoning, while billboards must be 500 feet from parks, schools and roadside rest areas.

Taylor Earl said the company he represents, Clear Channel Outdoor, favored the 500-foot rule from residences.

“Why offer less protection to homes than to parks or rest areas?” Earl said. “There should be even more compromise when an amendment affects the entire county.”

There are no billboards allowed in or near areas designated as scenic corridors. Digital billboards must have vertical and horizontal louvers that restrict how light would escape, focusing the light on traffic rather than spilling into neighboring areas.
Billboards within 300 feet of a freeway will be permitted to have a surface as large as 672 square feet, while billboards farther from freeways must be less than half that size.

For the October meeting, there were 12 large files of staff reports attached to the agenda item — most of which include dozens or hundreds of pages of documents.

The county’s Planning and Zoning Commission approved the most recent version of the amendment at its Sept. 9 meeting by a 3-1 vote.

District 4 Supervisor Steve Gallardo sounded frustrated as he explained what the proposed changes and their opposition are really about, saying the change has been discussed for the board for about three years.

“This is about who is going to get to make money,” Gallardo said in October. “It’s an industry fight. I get it. But to continue this, when we’ve gone over it, after Planning and Zoning has approved it, our own staff has approved it, to not vote on it now, is just not good public policy. It has been deliberated. It has been discussed.”

Gallardo said the towns and cities that oppose the change have had more than enough time to weigh in.

“Those who have questions — where the hell were you?” Gallardo asked.

The 4-0 vote occurred on Nov. 17 because District 2 is not currently represented. A replacement appointee for the recently resigned Supervisor Steve Chucri has not been named.

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