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DDI board votes to take no action on electronic billboards

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Downtown Durham Inc. President Bill Kalkhof sent a letter to Fairway Outdoor Advertising General Manager Paul Hickman explaining the reason for the DDI board's vote to take no action on a proposed amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance that would allow electronic billboards in Durham.

In essence, Kalkhof wrote, the 45-member board's discussion focused on three main areas: the repair and landscaping of billboards currently in our community; the possible relocation of billboards within the community; and, the issue of allowing digital billboards.

As for the most contentious issue—electronic, or digital, billboards—Kalkhof wrote, "If one assumes that digital billboards are an effective message provider, some Board members saw value in digital billboards as they relate to marketing downtown events, providing opportunities for less expensive marketing for downtown businesses, and providing amber alerts and other emergency messages that could benefit our community.

"On the other hand, other Board members were concerned about the visual impact of digital billboards, especially since no one could be certain where future digital billboards might be located (other than on main corridors, and near commercial areas), and what impact they might have on any neighborhood (some neighborhoods may be located near commercial areas) in Durham. Since Board members were simply not knowledgeable about where digital billboards would be located, and therefore would not know what impact they might have on any neighborhood, Board members could not reach any consensus."

Fairway, which owns more than half of the billboards in Durham, paid the city $1,750 to cover costs related to staff research and public hearings in hopes of getting an amendment passed.

Durham's Joint City-County Planning Committee discussed the issue earlier this week; several members asked for more information, including a comprehensive map of all billboards in the city and county.

The Indy reported earlier this week that the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce's Local Government Committee and Executive Committee "enthusiastically and unanimously" recommend that the Chamber board endorse the proposed amendment.

The amendment would have to jump through several governmental hoops in order to pass, including Durham County Commission and Durham City Council.

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