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Municipalities oppose Assembly plan to ease billboard rules

One way or another, regulations on billboards are likely to get looser in Las Vegas.

A proposed amendment to an Assembly bill would cut into the control Nevada cities and counties currently wield over the signs, requiring municipalities that force down billboards to help the owners find “comparable locations” for new signs.

At the same time, the city of Las Vegas is in the midst of negotiations with industry representatives to ease restrictions that billboard companies say put their business under unfair scrutiny.

The city and other local governments oppose the legislative amendment, submitted by billboard giant Lamar Outdoor Advertising last week.

But members of the city’s negotiating team say the amendment would not affect the talks, which began Wednesday.

“We’re negotiating in good faith,” said Chris Knight, director of administrative services.

The city had been working with billboard companies for over a year to modify regulations. But the sides reached an impasse last year.

The latest round of talks came about after an earlier bill was introduced in the Legislature that local governments said would take away much of their control over existing billboards.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and other city representatives told Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, that the city would negotiate with the billboard companies. The bill didn’t pass out of committee.

Jennifer Lazovich, an attorney for Lamar, said the new amendment was introduced as a “watered down” version of the original Assembly bill.

She said Lamar went to the Legislature because it was looking for consistency on how billboards are treated.

Besides allowing companies to relocate signs, the amendment would also allow billboards to be raised over newly constructed sound walls without requiring a special permit from a local government.

Local officials still expressed concern about the amendment.

The amendment would effectively make permanent billboards that had been temporarily approved, said Clark County Planning Manager Chuck Pulsipher.

He said it would be impossible to find “comparable locations” for billboards the county wants removed.

“The good locations were taken long ago” in the county, Pulsipher said.

The proposed amendment would be attached to Assembly Bill 120, which concerns public notification when local governments abandon or vacate streets for any purpose.

Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian said the proposed amendment in the Legislature is a threat to the city.

“Why should we negotiate if they want to take the authority away from us?” she said. “People don’t want additional billboards. People don’t want them taller to see them better from their front yards. When you talk about billboards, you talk about clutter.”

Mayor Pro Tem Gary Reese said of the negotiations: “Sometimes I think it’s like the tail wagging the dog.

“I can certainly appreciate the industry, but I think the city needs to have certain conditions and restrictions,” he said. “We can’t allow any industry to tell the city what to do.”

Dan Deegan, an active vocal opponent of billboards, said any terms being offered to billboard companies should be transparent to the public.

“There has to be a lot more public scrutiny than it has been given,” he said. “I don’t think the industry has really earned the right to any favors.”

Councilman Larry Brown said the city frequently works with industries to improve regulations.

“It’s incumbent upon the city to have dialogue with the billboard industry, just like homebuilders, commercial property builders, the downtown gaming industry. That’s the public process,” he said.

The legislative session is scheduled to end June 4, which is too soon for an ordinance to be finalized and passed by the City Council. Brown said he hoped Lamar would withdraw the bill.

“There is a significant amount of trust involved here, Brown said. “I’m optimistic we can resolve the local issues at a local level and produce an ordinance that meets everybody’s expectations.”

A draft ordinance handed out by city negotiators to the billboard industry would give a new billboard a minimum of five years before it was reviewed by the city to make sure it still conformed with the neighborhood. Currently, some billboards are subject to reviews as often as every six months.

Lazovitch said billboards are the only industry in Las Vegas subject to such frequent reviews.

She also said they provide a valuable service to the public.

“We always have new restaurants, concerts, plays and shows,” she said. “Billboards, not only for locals, but for tourists, are good at getting that information out.”

She also pointed to the use of digital boards in getting information out about missing children and weather disasters.”

Since 2000, the city has ordered seven billboards removed after the council determined that they were no longer compatible with the neighborhood, according to Planning and Development Director Margo Wheeler. Many of the billboards in the community are not subject to review because they have been grandfathered in.

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