PHOENIX — Central and Western Arizona will be wide open for illuminated billboards with changing messages under the terms of a deal hammered out Tuesday between sign owners and the astronomy community.
A proposal awaiting the finishing touches would create what amounts to buffer zones around the state’s existing and possible observatories where no new signs of this type would be allowed. In essence, it protects all of Arizona north of New River, making the entire northern tier of the state a “dark sky” zone for the brightly lit internally lighted signs.
Also off limits would be areas east of the Phoenix metro area, with protections extending to Cochise and Pima counties.
What’s left, however, are long stretches of I-10 and I-8 from Gila Bend and Phoenix and all the way to the California border.
Most immediately, that leaves in place the 70 existing signs, virtually all of which are outside the protected zones. The one exception is a billboard near Picacho Peak that will be “grandfathered” and allowed to remain.
The deal also includes a requirement for the billboards that remain — and those yet to come — to be turned off at 11 p.m. And there are some limits on the level of illumination, though they are brighter than the astronomy community had sought.
Jeff Hall, director of the Lowell Observatory, said he and his colleagues had hoped for more.
He said astronomers had hoped for a 90-mile zone around each site as the best way to minimize light pollution. Billboard operators wanted far less, with the 75 miles in the final plan the “absolute floor” that he and his colleagues could accept.
Hall said it became clear that industry would not give up their right to have more signs in the Phoenix metro area, where most of the existing billboards are located.
“The principal goal of the observatories was simply to preserve the rural parts of the state where the observatories are located. Completely overturning this thing was not an option from the start.”
That was also the assessment of Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler, who had proposed legislation to clarify that this type of signs was legal after the state Court of Appeals ruled otherwise last year. When that plan was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer, Robson sought to hammer out a compromise.
Robson said any effort to try to tear down the existing 70 signs made no financial sense.
He cited an Arizona constitutional provision which requires the government to pay when it takes private property. Robson said he could foresee billboard owners, who erected their signs with state permits, claiming financial losses of $10 million apiece, meaning a potential $700 million hit to the state budget.
While the astronomy community appears satisfied, that’s not the case across the board.
Mark Mayer of Scenic Arizona, which has fought the internally illuminated billboards in court and won, said he was not part of any negotiations. Nor had he even seen any draft of a deal.
Mayer said he wants assurances that there are no loopholes in the measure that would allow companies to erect more signs in the protected zones before the legislation takes effect.
He also said that, astronomy issues aside, there should be a limit on how close these type of signs can be to each other. Mayer suggested no more than one every 1,000 feet.
But the deal leaves in place existing regulations that govern all types of billboards, no matter their lighting source. Tim Tait of the Arizona Department of Transportation, said that means 500 feet spacing along freeways, with signs allowed as close to 100 feet from each other along other state roads in incorporated areas.
Article source: http://www.yumasun.com/news/signs-78354-state-billboards.htmlTags: astronomy community, Bob Robson, Arizona Department of Transportation, Western Arizona <BR/>