The Marietta City Council will discuss expanding the area where electronic LED billboards are allowed at tonight’s round of committee meetings.
Marietta’s current zoning rules prohibit any new billboards from going up in the city unless they are within 100 feet of Interstate 75. But in April, the council started discussing options for expansion along Cobb Parkway and the 120 Loop.
A 2009 revision of the sign ordinance specified that new LED billboards capable of displaying a rotation of multiple messages could be erected on I-75 in a combined effort to decrease the overall number of signs within the city.
The strategy eliminated 23 structures, totaling 23,412 square feet of signage, according to compiled reports by Shelby Little, the city’s urban planner.
Councilman Jim King said the ordinance accomplished the goal of the “swap-out type program,” so it is time to expand to Cobb Parkway where there are few homes and limited side-street access, similar to an interstate.
King added the original focus on the high traffic area of I-75 was the best place for businesses to access potential revenue.
Brian Binzer, the city’s director of development services, said there are limited opportunities for billboards left on I-75, due to minimum distance requirements between the signs.
A rule requiring a 500-foot distance between a new billboard and any residential property makes the 120 Loop ineligible for further billboard development.
“I hope allowing more advertising on U.S. 41, like in Acworth and Kennesaw, will cause more billboards to be taken down inside the city,” Binzer said.
Tonight, Little and the Planning and Zoning Department will ask the City Council to clarify the intent of changing the ordinance. Is it only to convert existing structures to new technology or is it to permit the building of traditional non-electronic billboards?
King said the council’s Finance/Investment Committee asked city staff to draft an ordinance that would continue to reduce the overall number of billboards.
“That is the one and only goal,” said King.
Little’s report estimates 13 structures on Cobb Parkway can be converted to digital panels, eliminating 52 existing boards.
A city of lights
The issue of outdoor advertising has traditionally sparked a debate between economic interests and community appearance.
King said although it is a matter of opinion, “most people view a large number of billboards as clutter.”
King added that he recognizes the importance of advertising to help local business, but the City Council’s goal is better commercially because it allows for more advertisers at one location using up-to-date technology.
A small company is able to pay a percentage for the cost of renting a billboard as one of many messages that loop on the display, King said.
That is not possible for stationary advertisements, which King said are posted for long periods of time and require more effort to manually change.
King adds the LED billboards are better for promoting special events around Marietta.
Marietta owns the land where a static board is located at the intersection of Cobb Parkway and North Marietta Parkway, near Six Flags White Water park, according to King.
An agreement with the company who owns the board allows the city to display information, which would be more beneficial if it could be updated frequently, King said.
“The city could actually show multiple events a month,” King said.
Smaller electronic boards
Binzer said the existing ordinance prohibits animated signs, which includes graphic effects like fading and quick movements.
In an effort to lessen the interference with traffic, digital messages cannot blink, and an image must be displayed for 10 seconds before moving to the next one, Binzer said.
Tonight the Finance/Investment Committee will also discuss allowing small electronic message boards, which are digital advertising banners that are banned in Marietta.
“They are the same technology, just on a different scale,” Binzer said.
He said there have been some exceptions that pre-dated the code, such as the Strand Theatre on the Square, and approval of electronic messages would include restrictions on where the boards are permitted.
For instance, Binzer said that many churches desire to broadcast events through this type of electronic signage, but these locations are often in residential areas.
Little’s report stated that large billboards are operated by companies dedicated to managing advertisements, unlike small digital displays, which are typically owned by independent businesses that are less experienced with signage rules.
She said Marietta does not currently have the testing equipment or staff to enforce the regulations if electronic message boards are approved.