2004 Green Valley News & Sun





















Citizens want billboard code enforced

By Philip Franchine





TUCSON--After hearing a parade of citizens demand that the county enforce the building code on scores of illegal billboards, the county plan commission could not make up its mind on a proposed code change and settlement with billboard giant Clear Channel Outdoor.

An official of the Whipple Observatory on Mount Hopkins appeared before the Pima County Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday to testify against the proposed code change, saying it would allow lighting of some billboards where lighting was not previously permitted and that would amount to a "special exemption" for the billboard industry and would undermine the county's dark skies code.

An official of the Kitt Peak Observatory also testified against the proposed settlement.

County staff, a citizen's review committee and officials of Clear Channel testified, and commissioners heard that at least 73 of the 118 Clear Channel billboards in
Pima County violate county codes.

Many of the billboards were erected without building permits, some are oversize, and some were modified to add or change lighting after lighting was prohibited, officials said. Among the most visible are three huge completed signs along Interstate 10 near and one partially completed one.

The commission was asked to endorse code changes that would incorporate a proposed settlement that calls for demolition of 45 billboards, of which 30 are illegal, and permits lighting to be added to others. The board of supervisors will consider the code change and settlement in December.









County staff acknowledged under questioning that five of those on the demolition list already are down, drawing snickers from the audience.

County Development Services Director Carmine DeBonis said another four on the list are on county property or right of way. Citizen's review committee member Mark Mayer said most of the rest on the demolition list were small, poorly located signs that are unprofitable to the company and in many cases have held only public service announcements, not paying messages.

Clear Channel official Dave Sitton said the billboard industry has been vilified in the past, "not without some justification," but defended his actions in the past four years and said removal of problem billboards would proceed more quickly under the settlement than if the county pursued enforcement action.

The commission failed to muster a majority to vote for supporting the proposed settlement and code changes that would incorporate the settlement, but it also failed to get a majority to vote against it, as one commissioner switched sides, leaving a 4-4 tie vote.

The commission also failed to get a majority to vote to continue the question for another month.

Commissioner Bonnie Poulos chastised the
county Board of Supervisors for sending the proposed settlement to the plan commission for an advisory opinion after the issue had been under negotiation for more than a year.

Poulos also complained that the proposed settlement, which would allow illumination on some billboards, had not gone through the sign or outdoor lighting committees that advise the
Pima County on code changes.

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry advised the Pima County Board of Supervisors earlier this year that it would be more cost-effective to undertake a global settlement of the case than to try to enforce the code against individual billboards.

Uphill battle

Huckelberry pointed out that the city of
Tucson has faced an uphill battle against illegal billboards since 1985, said the billboard industry has won state laws to limit local control and estimated the cost of enforcement at between $1.5 million and $3 million.

Dan Brocious of the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory read a letter that said, in part "billboard lighting has not been allowed since 1985. So here we are nearly 20 years after billboard lighting was prohibited. Not only are essentially the same number of billboards illuminated, but most of them are much brighter.

Undercuts code

"While the lighting design in the settlement is better than the glare-bomb style of many billboards today, it undercuts the Outdoor Lighting Code. For these reasons we ask that you deny the (code) amendment," the Whipple letter read.

The lighting code and settlement matters are scheduled to go before the Board of Supervisors at its Dec. 7 meeting and if the settlement is not approved, enforcement action could start in individual cases by mid-December, county staff said.

In another matter, the commission granted developer Joe Cesare a 90-day continuance for his Green Valley Hills proposal, which would put 300 units on a property south of Canoa Ranch, west of I-19 and north of
Elephant Head Road.

Meanwhile, the Outdoor Lighting Code Committee of Pima County and the city of
Tucson on Monday shot down a proposal to increase the outdoor lighting level for areas within 25 miles of observatories, committee chairman Hy Kaplan said.

As part of the negotiations that led to the town of Sahuarita granting a modification to its 48,000 lumen cap for the Wal-Mart SuperCenter and allowing 60,000 lumens there, Kaplan promised Wal-Mart and Diamond Ventures that he would bring the results of that case to the outdoor lighting code committee committee. A lumen is a measure of light emitted from a fixture.

The town's 48,000 lumen cap is based on the county limit in areas within 25 miles of an observatory. The SuperCenter and associated Madera Marketplace case was the first commercial development in either the town or county within the 25-mile zone.

Officials of Wal-Mart and Diamond contended early in the process that the 48,000 lumen limit was unrealistic and Kaplan agreed to ask the outdoor lighting code committee to examine the Sahuarita case.

The town granted a modification up to 60,000 lumens because that property is being developed on an irregularly-shaped lot and includes bank ATMs (automatic teller machines).

However, the lighting committee met Monday and unanimously rejected endorsing an increase in the county code, Kaplan said.

pfranchine@gvnews.com | 625-5511 x 28

2004 Green Valley News & Sun