Roughly a month after the County’s new ordinance took effect, no less than four applications seeking conditional use permits for electronic billboards are up for approval at next week’s commissioner meeting.
On Wednesday, April 10, Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor will vote to accept or deny two electronic billboard requests along Joe Frank Harris Parkway — one from Galen McDaniel, the other from Trinity Baptist Church — as well as two requests for electronic billboards along Highway 20 from Horton Outdoor and the trio of Mauldin Investments, Square One Capital and Terry Howren.
Under the County’s new digital billboard ordinance — which was approved in February — such conditional use permit requests skip over a Bartow County Planning Commission meeting and are subject to direct approval or denial from the county commissioner.
“I really felt like we should look at this from an administrative viewpoint only,” Taylor said. “I don’t have a big appetite for opening the doors up to Bartow County as far as filling our county up with digital billboards. I do understand that there’s a few spots that would be suitable for digital billboards … of course, we’re only going to look at the unincorporated areas of the county, on state highways, that are close into the city.”
Under the ordinance, electronic billboards are only allowed in portions of the county zoned for business parks, C-1 commercial, I-1 or I-2 industrial usages. Furthermore, the ordinance only permits such billboards “immediately adjacent to right of ways of state or U.S. highways,” including Interstate 75 ramps and interchanges.
Among other factors, Taylor said he will take into consideration the “character of an area” before deciding whether or not a digital billboard permit would be approved.
“Up and down the state highways, we have quite a few billboards already, and a lot of our citizens are concerned about billboards, and them being unsightly,” he said. “And some communities just don’t think they fit — I don’t anticipate a lot of the rural areas, even on state highways, receiving approval for billboards.”
Taylor also said he looks to avoid “clusters” of billboards along the county’s roadways.
“Some of the areas on 41, of course, have what we think is too many billboards,” he said. “They would probably be denied.”
But Taylor said he’s not just looking to limit the number of digital billboards erected throughout Bartow — he said he’s also looking to cut down on the number of traditional, “static” billboards throughout the county.
“If someone has traditional billboards and would remove those, maybe we would give them better consideration as far as putting up a digital billboard, should they want to remove two or three traditional billboards,” he said. “But that’s in the future, and that’s something that the particular companies would have to come to us and make an offer and we would look at it on a one-on-one basis.”
County digital billboards would be limited to 14 feet by 48 feet, with a maximum height, sign structure included, of 50 feet — although for signs along I-75, that maximum is increased to 100 feet.
Permit applications are $2,500. Once approved, that permit is valid for one year; however, once the sign is erected, the applicant’s permit will remain valid for 20 years from the date of the commissioner’s permit approval.
“We looked at other communities and that’s kind of a normal practice,” Taylor said. “Once you construct a digital billboard, you have to have some amount of time to recoup your investment. I wouldn’t approve one and expect a company to make that kind of investment and then say ‘Next year, this thing’s got to come down.’”
Taylor said he doesn’t have a hard number for how many applications have been submitted to the County since the ordinance became effective.
“We’re not throwing the door open for billboards, but we do realize we have openings for a few, so we’re going to consider those that have applied,” he said. “I don’t anticipate billboards coming up every month. In fact, I don’t even anticipate them coming up every six months. This is something that’s going to be coming up rarely, and we’ll take a look at them on a case-by-case basis, just to see if they’re a fit in the community."
Nor did Taylor have an estimate for how much the billboards would economically impact the County, although he did say they could possibly be solid revenue generators for the local government.
“These are expensive, so they would be paying their property tax based on what the billboards are appraised by our board of assessors,” he said. “Some of these billboards can go up over $400,000 or $500,000.”
Taylor said there is no “threshold” in mind for the maximum number of billboards allowed throughout the county. However, from his perspective, at least some portions of the county could be approaching that unofficial limit.
“If you ride down 41,” he said, “you can see that I think we’re almost at the pressure point.”
Ultimately, Taylor said he would like to see the County work together with the local municipalities to iron out some streamlined, intergovernmental guidelines on digital billboards.
“Keep in mind, the City of Cartersville and unincorporated Bartow, you’re in and out — one mile you might be in the City, the next mile you might be in the County,” he said. “I expect sometime in the future that the County and the City can sit down and have a consistent billboard policy that would be good for all of our citizens. It’s the same with up 41 to Adairsville and maybe down 41 to Emerson. These are the main highways that would likely see billboards … I think that’s something we need to talk to all of our cities about, going forward.”