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Billboard opponents unload at hearing

Passionate billboard opponents came out to a public hearing Wednesday morning, unloading on the Salt Lake County Commission with both barrels.

The commission is considering a request from Reagan Outdoor Advertising to relax various restrictions on billboard height, location and style in the unincorporated areas of the county, many of them located next to I-15.Reagan's general manager, Dewey Reagan, made an initial presentation saying the restrictions would give the company more freedom to renovate existing billboards and that the number of billboards wouldn't necessarily increase. He cited a recent relaxation in West Valley City's billboard ordinance saying the number of billboards there has not gone up.

The billboard opponents in attendance didn't believe him. Resident after resident trooped to the microphone to decry billboards as a blight on the landscape and the proposed changes as an outrage to Salt Lake's visual environment. Some called on the commission not only to deny Reagan's request but to tighten restrictions further.

"The idea that this (ordinance change) would disperse the signs and make them more aesthetically pleasing is ridiculous," said resident Jerry Schmidt.

The commission voted to study the issue further and make a decision in three weeks.

The Salt Lake County Planning Commission denied Reagan's proposed changes in November 1995. Reagan appealed the decision to the County Commission shortly afterward but did not pursue the matter to the hearing stage until now.

Billboards are allowed in commercial and manufacturing zones with certain restrictions on how close they can be to residential zones.

The proposed changes include the following:

- Billboards would be allowed in many more places - more than five times the number of sites would be allowed in C-1 commercial zones, for example.

- Signs could be placed 50 feet from a residential zone boundary or 75 feet from the residence itself, halving the current limit of 150 feet. (Reagan had originally proposed no setback restriction at all from residential boundaries.)

- Billboards supported by two poles (bi-pole billboards) would be allowed in addition to the currently allowed monopole billboards.

- Signs could be five feet higher to a maximum of 35 or 45 feet, depending on the type of zone.

- Double-decker signs at a maximum size of 600 feet (750 feet in manufacturing zones and the C-3 commercial zone), as well as various other height and size requirements, would no longer be conditional uses, meaning no hearing would be required before allowing them.

- No electronic message center signs would be allowed.

Some of the residents who spoke said billboards should be eliminated altogether.

"I have been to cities where there aren't billboards, and the difference is incredible," said resident Tricia Topham.

Other speakers noted Reagan's heavy investment in financing the campaigns of many local and state political candidates, as well as its lobbying efforts, and appealed to commissioners to listen to the little guys.

"Reagan is constant and relentless and is rich enough to do it," said resident Lorraine Miller. "The people of the community are not. . . . What do people have to do to let you know they do not want these billboards in their communities?"

The billboard issue is particularly germane now with the 2002 Winter Games approaching and Utah wanting to put on its best face for the world.

Opponents say billboards distract from Utah's rich visual beauty, with supporters saying there is no better opportunity to advertise their businesses.