Thursday, March 12, 2015

Jefferson County, Ala needs to change its sign ordinance, and now is (finally) the time

Back in the old days of 2006, we were working with the Jefferson County Commission to change its sign ordinance. The triggering event was a furniture store placing a digital billboard on a pocket of unincorporated land in the midst of Hoover. A few years later, a second board on another "pocket" was put up. We wrote proposed changes to the law, but because of other politics of the time (the sewer fiasco), we weren't able to get anything through.

Fast forward to 2015, and it happened again. A local billboard company suddenly started building a huge digital billboard on a pocket of unincorporated property in Homewood. This time, local residents erupted and have been unrelenting in pushing their local and state officials to stop it. The kind of law we weren't able to get passed in 2006 would have prevented this, but it's not too late for the county. We will be working to amend the ordinance to protect the people of the county against the infestation and intrusion of digital billboards (and any other kind).

From our files, this was the proposal in 2006. It would be a good start for 2015.

MAY 2006

Current law sets cap on number of billboards - this should be changed so that no permits will be issued for new locations. This will protect developing transportation corridors such as the Northern Beltline and Corridor X/I-22.

Current spacing requirements are inadequate to protect residential areas as they develop. Jurisdictions are now adopting  1,500-foot requirements in their ordinances. All distance requirements should be changed (between boards, distance from certain districts).If new billboards are not permitted, then the effect of this amendment will be to make some billboards non-conforming,  so that if they were destroyed they could not be reconstructed .

Animated signs should not be permitted at all. When the ordinance was written, animation meant the old-fashioned light-bulb type sign. Today's animated signs are "Jumbotron" displays which are distracting and ugly. (See Ashley Furniture in Hoover, and Auto Mall in Irondale). For the benefit of the public, the ordinance should not allow any more animated signs.

Digital displays are being touted as the wave of the future. However, in practice they are glaring, distracting to drivers and potentially unsafe. A good example is a digital display near the Oxmoor Industrial park, which shines right into drivers' eyes on West Oxmoor as they approach it. At least one company, Lamar, has stated (in a meeting in Daphne) that they have already purchased many of these units and are now trying to convince cities to allow them to be installed. The ordinance should set strict limits on size, brightness and location of digital displays, if they are to be permitted at all.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Resources in the Cloud

UPDATE: This week Scenic Alabama made a presentation on billboard legislation and policy at the Regional Sign Conference in Fairhope, hosted by the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission. A link to the Power Point presentation is below.  Because we are a shoestring nonprofit, we decided against printed handouts and instead are putting them "in the cloud." Click on the links below for publications and news articles of interest, as well as a list of helpful resources and links.
(also available at
Resources and links. This is a PDF document with hyperlinks to news articles and more.

P.S. If you'd like to help us get a larger-storage website so we can have a full-fledged resource library, please consider making a tax-deductible donation. Thanks!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

In for the Long Haul

A couple of years ago, there was a bill introduced in the Alabama Legislature that would have effectively eliminated sign regulations in the state. Scenic Alabama fought it, of course, and one of our strongest supporters was a group from Orange Beach. City officials and business leaders in that city have worked long and hard to create a welcoming, beautiful environment for their residents and thousands of visitors.

The city passed a billboard prohibition in 2001, and the industry has been fighting them ever since. This week, at last, the city won, and the billboards are coming down. Billboard company to pull 3 Boards

The people on the Gulf Coast are resilient in the face of natural and man-made disasters. They know that billboards not only are a visual blight that interferes with tourism, but also can create a negative impression of the community depending on what message appears on the board.

Orange Beach was in it for the long haul, and so is Scenic Alabama. We have been working behind the scenes for a couple of years: fighting bad legislation, educating public officials, and organizing to keep Corridor X/I-22 free from billboard blight. You will be seeing more of us in the months ahead, as these long-term projects come to fruition. Please keep in touch and support Scenic Alabama.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Join us to Celebrate Scenic Alabama

UPDATE SEPT. 29: We are honored to also have as our guest for this event, Mr. Ed McMahon, a co-founder of Scenic America, world-renowned planner specializing in sustainable development, AND who holds a master's degree from the University of Alabama. If you would like to attend and have not RSVP'd, please drop us an email and we'll hold your ticket for you at the door.

A scenic state doesn't just happen - it takes people working together for their communities. On Oct. 2, we will honor the people who started the Scenic movement in Alabama, as well as today's heroes.

Click here for E-vite and PayPal!

Host: Scenic Alabama
Location: Southern Progress HQ, Atrium
2100 Lakeshore Drive, Homewood/Birmingham, AL 35209 US
When: Thursday, October 2, 6:30PM
Phone: 205-322-2120
Cost: $45 per person

Come celebrate our beautiful state! Scenic Alabama has been fighting billboard interests in Congress, in the Alabama Legislature and in city halls across the state. We've educated elected officials and policy makers. We've helped citizens to protect trees and beautify highways. We've won most of our fights, thanks to our members and supporters. Now we want to recognize the people who have stood up for a scenic state.

Our honored guest is Kevin Fry, president of Scenic America.

Alabama honorees include
Mayor Tony Petelos of Hoover for his commitment to green space and opposition to billboards,
Daphne city council members Gus Palumbo and Cathy Barnette, who refuse to surrender to billboard interests,
Trussville city council member Wayne Taylor for his work on sign control and roadway beautification,
Mobile City Council member Connie Hudson for leadership in enacting a strict digital billboard ordinance,
City of Cordova (in the I-22 corridor) for its planning process and new sign ordinance banning billboards,
"Tree Heroes" Freida Romanchuk of Daphne and Janine Raby of Fairhope, whose hard work led to a new state policy that protects trees on public right of way,
and others!

We will also recognize those individuals who started the scenic movement in Alabama, and we'll announce new initiatives including
state laws to strengthen the Highway Beautification Act
a recycling program for plastic signs,
re-invigorating the wildflower planting program, and
stopping the onslaught of ugly, distracting digital billboards and signs.

Good Food! Beautiful setting! Great people! Please join us to celebrate our past victories and look forward to a more beautiful Alabama.

And please join us on Oct. 2 as we go forward toward a more beautiful state.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

They put WHAT on a billboard?

One of the secrets of billboard advertising is this: advertisers go for shock value but what they really want is for "legitimate" media to do a story about it. Here's a perfect example:

A billboard on display in Orange County, Florida shows the World Trade Center towers burning while telling passers-by: “Please Don’t Vote for a Democrat.” The local ABC News affiliate reports that the person responsible is a local musician “trying to help Republicans” but that “officials with both political parties are calling the billboard inappropriate.”

No matter how many people might drive by this billboard on a highly traveled road in Florida, that number pales in comparison to the national coverage it got on television news, blogs and online. Tomorrow you'll be reading about it in the local newspaper. This one relatively small expenditure for an in-your-face billboard leverages millions of dollars of free advertising (for this guy who apparently wrote a song and is trying to sell his CD).

Billboards, like most advertising, just don't have the credibility that press coverage does. So people who have controversial opinions, or who want to get free publicity by doing a tasteless ad campaign, will get a billboard so they'll get a story in the newspaper. That's how they really plan to sell their product or their idea.

This was my comment on one political blog, and a response:

I hate billboards no matter what's on them... and part of the reason is that there is NO restriction of what can go on them - money talks. The billboard company can sell space to whoever they want to (or decline to sell it, which happens a lot as well). So the billboard folks decide what is going to visually assault you while you're peacefully driving down the road.

A secret of outdoor advertising is that billboards like this are not intended to get you to change your mind - they're intended to get media coverage and then that's what gets a response. It worked, didn't it?


  • One of the things I like about Maine..... billboards. Just nice discreet little blue signs.

    • Vermont, too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

City of Mobile votes new rules on digital billboards

The Mobile City Council has voted to restrict digital billboards, and they rejected an attempt by billboard interests to put units closer to residential areas.

As originally passed by the Planning Commission, the law would let the back of a digital unit be 250 feet from a residential area. I've been told by someone who attended the Council meeting that the council changed that provision to require the entire billboard to be 500 feet away. This is basically reverting to the original 1994 billboard ordinance.

The new regulations generally require a nonconforming billboard to be removed for each digital unit installed, and also restrict how bright they can be.

You can get an overview of the changes and the vote at the Mobile Press Register.

(The OASIS proposal, for supply caches and ground-level digital ads, was not up for consideration at the council meeting. I will try to have more details on this as it develops.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Digital Billboard Trojan Horse?

What more than madness has possess'd your brains?... Somewhat is sure design'd, by fraud or force: Trust not their presents, nor admit the horse. From The Aeneid, by Virgil

The citizens of Mobile and Prattville have been offered a Trojan Horse. If it is allowed in, then we will end up with communities that look like the Las Vegas Strip, all for some bottled water and a storage pod.

A company called OASIS has come into Mobile and said they’ll put up storage units, stock them with emergency supplies and do it all for free. The catch? Nothing much - just a couple of Jumbotron TV screens so they can sell ads. Just digital billboards at ground level every 400 feet or so. They’ve convinced some city officials, and if it’s not nipped in the bud then these will be infesting our state like fire ants.

OASIS has presented itself as a foundation which works on community preparedness. However, this program has much less philanthropic beginnings.

This is the logo that OASIS used when they were featured by the Lexington (Ky.) Venture Club in early 2007. The company name is an acronym for Outdoor Advertising Storage and Integrated Systems. (That name is not on the logo as it is currently being used.) This is an outdoor advertising company that wanted to break into the market, and came up with a creative way to put billboards into communities. This is what their ad said:
Introducing a new category of outdoor media
OASIS is launching a next generation Outdoor Advertising company that will introduce a new category of outdoor media to meet the burgeoning demand of advertisers for more outdoor media exposure at a time when new typical outdoor locations are becoming harder and harder to attain. Utilizing storage modules as the vehicle to place attractive, state-of-the-art advertising displays onto retail and commercial sites will provide a new category of outdoor advertising that will be in high demand. OASIS has developed and patented a business methodology which will facilitate the placement of these combination storage/advertisement modules onto thousands of retail and commercial locations. To initially rollout the business and gain traction, OASIS has developed a disaster relief Program and partnered with various Emergency Planning agencies whereby OASIS provides free storage space to pre-stage disaster commodities into communities in exchange for the assistance Emergency Planning agencies at each community level.

A press release from January states that Oasis Foundation of America is a philanthropy headquartered in Montgomery. An internet search showed no listing at the nonprofit registry nor at the Internal Revenue Service listing of nonprofits. An internet search on the name “Oasis Foundation of America” shows only the press coverage and blog mentions, and not any organizational information.

An email listing for the foundation has the URL of This goes to a single page with the OFA logo, a phone number and an email address.

Oasis Ad Group is not listed as a corporation with the Alabama Secretary of State.

Oasis Foundation of America is listed in the 2008 membership directory of the National Emergency Management Association, with Joe Montgomery as Chairman of the Board of Trustees, with an address of 1375 S. Broadway, Lexington, KY, 40504. This address is identified on Google Maps as the Crowne Plaza Hotel Lexington. Mr. Montgomery is identified as the owner of the hotel in the Better Business Bureau web listing.

The website for the “S.O.S. Supplies On Site” program includes some interesting information which is different from what is in the press release material.

The program is described as providing two types of modules. “Blue modules” are stocked with bottled water: “(T)the to deploy a sufficient bottled water supply in each community...[for] the first 48 hours.” There is no mention of any other supplies. The silver module is empty. The blue module is 10x10x20, which is two feet wider and higher, and four feet longer, than the biggest PODS storage system. The silver modules are 8x8x20, which are not much smaller.

The only thing that is promised is half the units will have water in them, and that the local EMA has access. The community has to stock the units. OASIS owns the modules.

OASIS decides where they are going to be placed, not based on where is best in an emergency but rather where it is best for advertising. “OASIS will have final authority on the selection of all site placements.”

The digital billboards were deployed at the Mobile Red Cross headquarters, but complaints about glare and driving hazard has reportedly led to them being shut off.

There are already community-based emergency storage facilities. They are called fire stations and police stations. These are buildings with emergency power and staff on hand.

None of the newspaper articles or press releases go into any of the logistics of these units. Will they withstand hurricane-force winds and storm surge? Who has the keys? What happens if the power goes out? How will they be protected from vandalism? What kinds of supplies will they hold, and is this the best way to store them? How do you get access in an emergency, especially if there are floods, trees or power lines between the unit and the EMA personnel?

As far as the signs themselves, we are talking about large signs (the side of the units are at least 8x20 and the front/back is 8x8) at eye level with drivers. Most cities with sign ordinances have banned portable signs with flashing lights because of their distraction, and these are basically the same thing with a flashier picture.

The Mobile City Council is acting on some changes to the zoning ordinance to regulate digital billboards. The current regulations have been worked out over several months, and although they are not perfect (in our opinion digital boards need to be banned) at least they give the citizens some control. Now, OASIS has come in and asked to water down the regulations so that they can put their signs up. Don’t be mistaken - this is not about putting out emergency supplies. It is about being able to put up huge arena-style digital screens right at driver eye level so you can see ads for beer and TV shows.

How to act: ask the Mobile City Council to do two things: vote in favor of the original proposal which regulates digital signs, and vote against the Oasis proposal to allow digital signs at ground level on the sides of portable buildings. Email links are available here. If you prefer, you can email Scenic Alabama and we will forward it, or post a comment.

If you live or work in Mobile, please communicate with the Council. If you live in Mobile, Baldwin, Elmore or Autauga Counties, it would be good for you to contact the Mobile Council as well as your own local officials. Your communities are next. Regardless, if you are a citizen, you should be concerned about this effort to bring blight into your community with no real positive impact in return.