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Commission relaxes rules on billboards

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There's no guarantee a billboard will soon be a stone's throw from your back yard - but it's now possible.

In a split vote, the Salt Lake County Commission agreed Wednesday to relax billboard restrictions in unincorporated areas.Commissioners Brent Overson and Randy Horiuchi cast affirmative nods, while Mary Callaghan voted against the measure.

In a prepared statement, Horiuchi said he was sensitive to both sides of the billboard argument. Billboard companies have free speech and property rights, he said, while opponents fear billboard blight.

"From a public policy standpoint, billboards will exist," Horiuchi said. "The Legislature has made it impossible for governments to amortize them and the courts have recognized the free speech aspects, so we are faced with them."

The new measure, which was proposed by Reagan Outdoor Advertising, allows larger, higher billboards in more locations and closer to residential zones.

Reagan officials say the change allows the company more freedom to maintain existing billboards and find new space to replace former billboard spots lost to development.

"Our intention is not to go out and build 30 or 40 new signs in the unincorporated county," Reagan general manager Dewey Reagan said.

Horiuchi called for cooperation between the government and the sign industry to ensure billboard business is conducted responsibly.

"This ordinance can change back as it has changed today, and it will if the sign companies show bad faith," he said.

Jerry Schmidt and other billboard opponents said they were "deeply disappointed" by Wednesday's decision.

"I've never known anyone to look at a piece of open space and say they'd like to see a billboard there," Schmidt said.

Schmidt added the Commission acted despite a conflict of interest between many politicians and sign companies.

Reagan is well known for contributing to political campaigns, primarily by giving billboard space to candidates.

Horiuchi acknowledged that he received campaign contributions from the industry and did some political consulting for sign companies in the 1970s.

"All of these items have either been disclosed on my campaign disclosure or earlier press statements," he added.