Cape council delays new billboards, mulling policy

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Business Today

Billboard companies will have to take about a month hiatus from new construction in Cape Girardeau while the City Council decides on a permit policy for the outdoor advertising.

The council issued the moratorium in mid-August, afraid that companies might try to erect billboards as a defensive measure while the policy is being shaped.

The planning and zoning commission has finalized a series of billboard changes, and the council will consider their recommendations in future council meetings.

Ward 2 Councilman Charlie Herbst recommended the permit freeze, saying he was trying to protect the residential neighborhoods along Highway 74.

The planning and zoning commission's recommended changes would ban any billboards east of Kingshighway, including along Highway 74.

"Not only are there issues with the residential area on 74, but the historical preservation committee and downtown groups didn't want to see a bunch of billboards popping up either," Herbst said. "I'm just saying let's have a grace period to look at this, because if stiffer regulations are coming in, I'm afraid we might have barrage of permits."

Ward 3 Councilman Jay Purcell said there was a precedent for a bonanza of billboard building when the state put billboard regulations on a ballot in 2000. The ballot issue prompted billboard companies to raise approximately 40 more signs between St. Charles and Columbia on Interstate 70.

Currently, a building permit is all that is required to raise a billboard, and it does not require council approval. As long as the billboard manufacturer meets the standards already in place, the city cannot refuse to grant the permit. A special-use permit, which requires council approval, is needed to build certain structures like cell phone towers.

The changed recommendations would essentially align the city's policy with the state's.

Jeff Bohnert, general manager for Drury Southwest Signs, said he has seen a list of the commission's changes.

"We're looking at what the city's concerns are, and we just want to talk to the city and see what problems they think our industry might have," he said. "We want to come up with a solution that is best for us and them."

Bohnert said the planning and zoning commission contacted the company about one particular issue -- banishing moving images like a video screen.

Bohnert said there was some concern about the limitations the city would be placing on certain streets.

"Some of the areas they're restricting are commercial areas," he said. "Billboards are not allowed in residential areas anyway. Ideally what will happen is we'll work with them, express our concerns, take and address their issues and come to a middle ground."

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