Effort to change billboard law faces long odds

Two days remain to push bill through House and Senate

sharrison@charlotteobserver.comJune 30, 2012 

COURTESY CITY OF CHARLOTTE — Courtesy City of Charlotte

State Rep. Becky Carney, a Charlotte Democrat, is hopeful her bill to give cities and towns more control over tree-cutting around billboards can become law, even though it faces long odds with only two days left in the current legislative session.

Last year, the General Assembly passed a law giving billboard companies more leeway to cut trees and other vegetation that obscure their roadside signs.

The law also gave the N.C. Department of Transportation final say to grant the permits, and it only allowed municipalities to make advisory comments.

A number of cities cried foul after the bill was passed, and some legislators, including Carney, said they weren’t clear that local control was being removed. The city’s lobbyist and others also misunderstood the implications of the bill.

“This is what I said I would do,” Carney. “I said I would try and restore local control. I want the city to have control over its natural landscape.”

Sign owner defends law

Adams Outdoor Advertising, one of the state’s largest billboard companies, said the tree-cutting law is a common-sense way to ensure its signs can be seen. Adams has said that its clients have complained that some signs are obscured by trees, some of which were planted after the signs were erected.

Adams received N.C. DOT approval for its first group of 21 tree-cutting applications. Some have been completed, along Interstates 77 and 485.

“It’s about what I expected,” said Don McSween, the city of Charlotte’s arborist, about the first cuts. “I’m worried about some bare spots. I’m worried about erosion.”

Adams has said it’s only cutting the minimum number of trees so its signs can be seen, and that it will replant some trees later this year.

The company said in a statement that it’s monitoring Carney’s bill.

“The issue of state property and regulation of such is an important topic for the legislature to consider and get right,” said Adams general manager Kevin Madrzykowski in a statement. “In the meantime, this will have no impact on our business as we continue to work closely with N.C. DOT, the city of Charlotte and other local municipalities facilitating our selective vegetation removal program.”

The bill was passed out of environmental committee more than a week ago, which was a positive step. But it still must go before a full vote of the state House.

If it survives a full House vote, it goes to the Senate.

Fenton, the city lobbyist, said the bill faces long odds.

“They only have Monday and Tuesday,” Fenton said. “That’s true for any bill.”

Harrison: 704 358-5160

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