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RELAX THE BILLBOARD LAW? CONSIDER PLAN'S SOURCE

The image of Dewey Reagan of Reagan National Advertising drafting amendments to Salt Lake County's sign ordinance is like Newt Gingrich writing speeches for President Clinton or LaVell Edwards designing plays for Ron McBride's Utes.

There's just something wrong with this picture.Reagan has come up with several pages of amendments he would like to see the county adopt that would relax a number of restrictions on placement and size of billboards in the county, allowing some to be bigger and closer to homes. He wrapped up the proposal with a cover letter and presented it to County Commission Chairman Brent Overson.

Overson distributed the packet to the Planning Commission, and planning director Jerold Barnes sent copies of it to community councils. Though Overson says he "had nothing to do with it," the proposal has taken on a life of its own and surprising credibility. It may even lead to some changes.

Some community council representatives are justifiably suspicious of proposed ordinance changes originating from a company that stands to benefit directly from them.

The current sign ordinance is a product of much negotiation and compromise between community leaders, county officials and advertising firms in the late 1980s.

The bottom-line question now has to be: Is there really any reason to consider such things as allowing some types of billboards in even a few neighborhoods and shopping districts without requiring permits, allowing billboards double the size currently permitted in some commercial areas and billboards as close as 50 feet to some homes and residences in commercial areas?

Who would benefit from such changes, except advertising companies that erect and sell space on billboards? The answer, of course, is almost no one.

Other methods of advertising are effective and don't intrude on the public's attention and obstruct more appealing vistas the way billboards do.

An enormous amount of work went into the creation of the current sign ordinance. Any proposal to change it, especially to relax its restrictions on billboards, should be considered very cautiously. In the case of the Reagan proposal, the county should also consider the source.