Future of Highway billboards uncertain

By From page A1 | May 14, 2012

El Dorado County Supervisors took another whack, Tuesday, at the issue of advertising signs, particularly along Highways 50 and 49. Signage is generally governed through Chapter 17.16 of the county’s Zoning Ordinance. However, the board was conflicted between considering a stand-alone moratorium on signs and dealing with the issue more comprehensively through an updated Zoning Ordinance. The latter is an element of the county’s General Plan review and update.

Development Services Director Roger Trout offered a way through the weeds by proposing that the board consider hiring a consultant who specializes in sign-related issues. That individual or firm would then assist the county in crafting procedural and policy language that could be incorporated into the larger ordinance.

The county could then tailor its Request for Proposal in such a way that prospective specialists would know just what is wanted, needed and expected in a sign ordinance — “an RFP would include the issues we’re concerned with,” Trout said after pointing out that, “I’m always whining and begging that I don’t have enough staff (for this kind of project), so what I’m angling for is an RFP.”

During earlier board discussion, supervisors kicked around the idea of a moratorium on signs. But, rather than a sweeping ban, Trout advised limiting any moratorium to “new, free-standing signs within 100 feet of Highway 50 and add Highway 49 as well.”

At that point, County Counsel Lou Green cautioned the board saying, “You may want to give your staff more flexibility than that.” His point being that supervisors would not want to be dealing with exceptions that may propose, for example, a sign 93 feet rather than 100 feet from the freeway.

Deputy County Counsel Paula Frantz further explained that the board could “put a temporary limitation on (sign) applications that you believe are non-compliant … You have lots of options,” she said.

Why this; why now?

Back in late March, Cameron Park resident John D. Pereira partially won an appeal from the board on one of three billboards proposed for construction along Highway 50. The Planning Commission had denied Pereira’s applications, but supervisors are authorized to overturn those decisions on appeal.

The Mountain Democrat published a story about that event March 30, 2012 and included the following:

“Pereira and several other speakers challenged the board and the development process  on the grounds that the county does not have a specific set of standards governing off-premises signage. The county sign ordinance, in fact, gives little or no parameters that would guide an individual who wanted to propose a billboard other than the administrative steps necessary to request the special use permit.”

The specific section of the ordinance is printed verbatim below:

“17.16.120 Off-premises signs.
Off-premises signs, not otherwise regulated by this title, may be established by special use permit upon following the procedure set forth in Chapter 17.22. Prior to the issuance of a special use permit for off-premises signs, the zoning administrator shall consider the location, size and display of the sign for compliance with the policies of the general plan land use element. (Ord. 3414, 1983).”

Roger Trout responded by e-mail Wednesday to a request for information regarding the Zoning Ordinance sign element.

“An RFP … is one step in our process to hire a consultant for provision of services, and in this case, the preparation of a new sign ordinance,” Trout wrote.
“At this point, many more details need to be worked out before it is provided to the Board for approval of an RFP, then we send out the RFP to interested firms that do this sort of work and, hopefully, will receive proposals from those firms. Then we select one firm and provide a contract that the Board again needs to approve to just start the process … the sign moratorium ordinance will fit in there somewhere and would be a separate, although related, item.”
Chairman John Knight contacted the Mountain Democrat Thursday and explained that according to “outside counsel, the current ordinance is pretty weak.” And he added that it is incumbent upon the county to “move along quickly (if we’re going to have) a moratorium” on the way to a final ordinance.
If instituted, a moratorium would initially impose a 45-day halt to sign applications, extendable to one year. Thereafter, it could be extended for only one additional year, Knight pointed out. He further hinted that the county could need to extend a potential moratorium while it searched for funding for a prospective consultant.
Acknowledging the concerns of those in the sign industry, Knight noted that “there will be a number of public hearings on the issue, and there are lots of people with strong feelings.”
Compared to the county, Knight said the state’s Caltrans has “very restrictive standards” regarding signs and billboards erected in areas of its right of way.

Chris Daley

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