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Scenic Michigan Seeks an Executive Director

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Part-time, contract employment; exempt from overtime


Board of Directors


Reporting to the Board of Directors, the Executive Director (ED) is the sole staff person for Scenic Michigan (SM) and will have overall strategic and operational responsibility for programs and execution of its mission. S/he will initially develop deep knowledge of the organization’s history, mission, and operations.

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President’s Message—Good News, Bad News

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The good news is that with the help of a major donor, we are completing a Michigan scenic road inventory, the first of its kind. These are roads that have already been designated scenic by some state or local agency. The work is being done by the Land Information Access Association (LIAA). It will help us target specific communities for our help in keeping designated scenic roads scenic. This targeting will help us make more efficient use of our resources. A next step will be to help identify roads that should be designated scenic, and identify ways to keep them scenic, free from the distraction and ugliness of billboards and other forms of roadside blight. A more detailed description of the project can be found elsewhere in this newsletter.

The bad news is that our longtime executive director Abby Dart has decided to retire in early 2018. We have begun the process to replace her with someone who will work with Abby to make a smooth transition in the day-to-day leadership. Those of you who know Abby know she will be sorely missed. If you know someone who should be considered to fill her position, please let me know. Might it be one of you?

City of Livonia receives Scenic Hero Award

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Award given to those who make a lasting contribution to preservation of scenic character

Each year, Scenic Michigan presents the Scenic Hero Award to individuals or organizations that make a significant and lasting contribution to preserving, protecting, and enhancing the scenic character of Michigan’s roads and communities. This year, Scenic Michigan is pleased to present our Scenic Hero Award to the City of Livonia and city attorney Mike Fisher for leading an outstanding and successful effort to prevent construction/addition of electronic/digital billboards in the City of Livonia—thus helping to prevent blight, driver distraction, and deterioration of the scenic qualities of Livonia.

The City of Livonia—with the leadership of Mike Fisher—have set an example for cities throughout Michigan who seek to improve both their visual appearance and quality of life for their residents. Scenic Michigan congratulates these scenic heroes for a job well done!

What’s in Your Sign Ordinance?

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Excerpt reprinted with permission from, “What’s In Your Sign Ordinance?”, which appeared in the November 2016 issue of Township Focus magazine, from the Michigan Townships Association.

Signs are protected by the constitutional right to free speech because they express a message—even if that message is only the time and date of an event. Most townships and municipalities in general have taken the right to free speech to mean that one message can’t be treated less favorably than another, regardless of the religious, political or other sentiment it conveys. Some violations are obvious—if your sign ordinance does not allow religious signs or bans certain political signs, that’s a clear First Amendment violation.

But last year, a U.S. Supreme Court decision took the concept of “content neutrality” much further. The crux of the decision is this: If you must read a sign in order to determine if it’s permitted, there is a serious question of whether your sign ordinance is not content-neutral. That means if your township has different regulations for real estate, political or garage sale signs, you could be in violation.

The decision In Gilbert, Ariz., a small church that met in elementary schools and other public buildings used temporary signs to advertise its services. The town’s sign ordinance did not allow outdoor signs without a permit but made an exception for 23 different types of signs. One of these types was temporary directional signs. The ordinance required that temporary directional signs only be displayed for certain amounts of time before and after an event and must include the date of an event. Church members were responsible for making sure the signs were posted on Saturday and then taken down on Sunday afternoon. However, when the church failed to take approved an ordinance that attempts to strike the difficult balance of preventing sign clutter while also regulating solely by size, location and physical characteristics

It’s new territory for the township—and for local governments throughout Michigan and the United States. Regulating signage is an important job for township planning and zoning officials, as well as the township board. Signs don’t just impact your township’s appearance—they can also affect safety. It’s up to your township to make sure signs are at a proper setback from the road and don’t distract drivers.

But because of the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision—Reed vs. Town of Gilbert, Ariz.—virtually every township must now reconsider how it accomplishes this job. A group of attorneys is currently working to create a model ordinance or guidelines for municipalities—including MTA Legal Counsel Catherine Kaufman, attorney at Bauckham, Sparks, Thall, Seeber & Kaufman, PC. The group hopes to release some kind of guidance by the end of the year. Until then, townships should take another look at their sign ordinance and ask for assistance from their attorney. “It’s important for townships to understand that they need to look at their sign regulations and try to identify if they are content neutral,” Kaufman said. “They should ask for assistance from their township attorney or from a municipal attorney. It’s likely they’re going to need some changes.” Keeping your township beautiful

Nonprofit organization Scenic Michigan has long advocated for the regulation of signs as a way to preserve a community’s appearance and character. Larry Keisling, a Scenic Michigan board member and former planning director for the City of Troy, believes that while signs are necessary, too many of them in one small area make a community look cluttered, whether it’s a downtown or a wooded countryside. If sign sizes and setbacks aren’t regulated, they can put drivers and pedestrians alike at risk. At the same time, businesses, nonprofits and anyone with an event to advertise count on signs to let the public know about their event or product. Signs are crucial in political campaigns. And some homeowners just like to place signs in their yard to convey a general message. Most townships have some kind of sign ordinance, which is generally done through the township’s zoning, though it’s also possible to regulate by police power ordinance. The goal in most cases is to allow people, businesses and organizations to advertise and exercise their right to free speech while also keeping their township from being covered in out-of-control signage. Most ordinances control signs by setting limits on their size, height, location and setback from the road. While this sounds simple, sign ordinances tend to be complicated. It’s a common practice to categorize temporary signs by their content and then regulate them differently.

What’s in your sign ordinance? “It’s important for townships to understand that they need to look at their sign regulations and try to identify if they are content neutral. It’s likely they’re going to need some changes.” —MTA Legal Counsel Catherine Kaufman, Attorney, Bauckham, Sparks, Thall, Seeber & Kaufman, PC

Scenic Michigan to work with Land Information Access Association to create scenic road map

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Scenic Michigan is a coalition of grassroots organizations, elected officials, and interested citizens working to preserve and enhance the scenic quality of Michigan’s roadways. One tool Scenic Michigan has historically supported is the designation of “scenic roads.”

However, despite the common application of this tool throughout the state, it remains unclear how roads receive such a designation, how many have received it, and where all of the roads are located. In response to a discussion with Scenic Michigan board member Jim Lagowski, the Land Information Access Association proposes to help clarify scenic road designations in Michigan. This proposal is based on the tasks specified in our conversation with Mr. Lagowski and the experience of LIAA staff.

We expect geographic information system (GIS) specialist Paul Riess will be LIAA’s prime professional engaged in the successful completion of this research and mapping effort. A geographer and cartographer, Paul has more than 20 years of experience in developing and managing spatial databases, designing GIS systems, and teaching GIS operations. He has extensive experience in the development of geographic data and mapping for city, township, and county master plans, recreation plans, corridor plans and natural resource management plans. A biogeographer, he holds a B.S. in Biology and Geography and an M.S. in Biology from Andrews University as well as an M.A. in Geography from Western Michigan University.

LIAA will research and aggregate all the different scenic road designations that currently exist in Michigan. Some initial research has found that there are a number of national, state and local roadway designations throughout Michigan. LIAA staff will work to get GIS data for each road designation, and research the process and criteria for the different designations.

Once the data is collected, LIAA will develop a comprehensive map of all the designated scenic roads in Michigan. The final map will be available in both a print and digital version.

Share Your Scenic City Photo Contest

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Scenic Michigan is holding a photo contest! Submit a picture of your attractive community on Scenic Michigan’s Facebook page or email to by April 15, 2017. Please provide a brief description of the location and why you chose it. Look for locations that highlight the beauty or scenic character of your community the winning entrant will receive a copy of the beautiful pictorial “The Northwest Shore: Fine Art Photography of Michigan’s Northwest Lower Peninsula Shoreline.”