Fall 2014 Newsletter

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President’s Message


Jim Lagowski

A continuing thanks to a major donor whose support has made it possible to increase our outreach efforts with local communities. This includes participation in five Michigan Township regional seminars, development of a new Scenic Michigan Power Point presentation already in use and additional meetings in Southeast Michigan to seek new opportunities for sign training workshops for local officials, using ourSign Guidebook.

Our new (small) office in Ann Arbor will further strengthen our presence in Southeast Michigan and provide new opportunities for financial support of our mission. Ann Arbor is a prime example of a city that took significant action to ban digital billboards and reduce blight with an effective sign ordinance. Kudos to the City Council.

With the assistance of Public Sector Consultants, we will be introducing an electronic version of our Scenic Michigan newsletter this fall. Please email our office at info@scenicmichigan.org to provide us with your email address so that you don’t miss an issue and can keep up to date on our activities. Our Michigan Sign Guidebook, the best in the nation, is available on CD, at no cost, to anyone with an interest in good signage in their community. This includes our supporting members-you.

Albion College is completing work on an independent research study to confirm initial data that shows that while highway crashes have gone down in Michigan, they have increased near digital billboards. This critical information will be widely distributed as soon as the study is completed and we believe will be integral to limit digital billboards in Michigan.

Scenic Michigan is proud to welcome two new Board Members! Rory Bolger who has had a long career in planning and currently works with the City of Detroit and Megan Olds, also with a background in planning and assisting local government and conservation organizations, will be very strong advocates for Scenic Michigan.

Finally, don’t forget our new endowment fund, established last year, as we work towards long term financial stability. Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate indicated a willingness to permit a tax free donation from an IRA to a
501(c)3 tax exempt organization like Scenic Michigan. More to come on this one.

Thank you for your continued interest in and for your financial support of our Mission!

Driven to Distraction

Toronto-based self described “community choreographer” Dave Meslin shares his excellent article about the hazards of digital billboards. Meslin compares the dangers of digital billboards to drivers with the early days of omnipresent cigarette smoke. What we know now is that smoking can kill you. What we also know now is that digital billboards distract drivers. Driver distraction is the number one cause of traffic fatalities. Read on for Dave Meslin’s very persuasive argument to ban digital billboards. Click here to read the full article.

Interview with Jordan Twardy


Jordan Twardy

Q. Can you provide us with an overview of the Eight Mile Boulevard Association and the mission of the association?

The Eight Mile Boulevard Association (8MBA) was founded in 1993 by the cities and counties along Eight Mile between I-275 and I-94, along with the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation. 8MBA exists to revitalize and promote the Eight Mile corridor by linking the public and private sectors, and we do so through a variety of programs and projects aimed at community and economic development.

Q. How long have you been the Executive Director and what is your background?

I was promoted to 8MBA Executive Director in February 2014. Before that, I was serving as 8MBA’s Director of Programs, a position I took in March 2012. Prior to my time at 8MBA, I worked in constituent service, planning and economic development for the City of Warren. I hold a Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning and a Real Estate Development Certificate from the University of Michigan, along with a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and History from Oakland University.

Q. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the Eight Mile Corridor and what are some steps you are taking to address them?

Eight Mile’s biggest challenge is its perception as a regional divider and by extension as a difficult place to do business. We actively address this challenge by working with our partners in the public and private sectors to remove barriers to investment, to address blight and to create physical progress on the corridor that people can see and feel. Together with our community partners, 8MBA created a comprehensive set of Design Guidelines to promote best practices in property design, landscaping, business signage and other elements to help raise the aesthetic standards for the corridor. We advance those guidelines through our Façade Improvement Program, which provides competitive cash grants to businesses who implement the guidelines on their property. In addition, we coordinate with local governments and MDOT to successfully deliver services such as consistent mowing and landscaping work for public rights of way. We also work with real estate developers in support of large, catalytic projects. In 2013, we celebrated the successful grand opening of Detroit’s first Meijer store at the Gateway Marketplace development at Eight Mile and Woodward. 8MBA served as a public advocate for the project and helped secure tax incentives to bring a vision that was more than 9 years in the making into reality. By promoting tangible, measurable change on Eight Mile, we are helping to change the corridor’s perception and revealing to the region that Eight Mile is a place where businesses and residents can thrive.

Q. I’m sure the funding issues so prevalent in Michigan these days, also impacts the cities along Eight Mile. How has your organization addressed this issue and are there creative ways to secure funding for community improvement that you could share with our readers?

Funding is definitely a prevalent issue, but 8MBA and our partners have become adept at leveraging our collective strength to do more with less. By coordinating our efforts and aligning plans wherever possible, we achieve results that would not have been possible alone. As we set our strategic priorities we make a point of identifying the goals and activities of our partners, focusing on areas of overlapping interests where we can partner. For example, 8MBA made it a priority in 2014 to support the revitalization of parks on or near Eight Mile. With a shoestring budget but lots of partners, we were able to align our efforts with the interests of the City of Detroit, the companies Tom’s of Maine and Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, and the Michigan Nonprofit Association, allowing us to assemble $80K to revitalize two Detroit parks off Eight Mile Road. In this effort we combined two companies’ passion for positive change with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s Adopt-a-Park Program and the efforts of two very dedicated nonprofit partners, along with residents in the neighborhood surrounding the park.


Q. I understand that the Eight Mile Boulevard Association is a public/private partnership of people working together to improve the look and quality of life along the Boulevard. What are some examples of the partnership in action?

8MBA couldn’t achieve its mission without collaboration between our diverse family of public and private stakeholders. As we pursue that mission, we often find that the greatest success is achieved when numerous stakeholders come together in ways they might not have previously done so before. The revitalization of Knudsen Park – currently under way for fall 2014 – brought together the City of Detroit, the company Tom’s of Maine, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and a group of residents. By leveraging the combined strength of business, community and government, 8MBA and our partners transformed a great idea into what is unfolding as a great project. Our public/private partnership acts in other ways to achieve success. Our Façade Improvement Program unites property owners with local planners and grant funders to facilitate private investment in the corridor. With every façade project we also inspire other businesses to get involved as word spreads about our program’s ability to improve property design while saving time and money. We also like to connect business and government with grassroots efforts to improve quality of life. Our annual “Clean the D” event unites students, corporations, church groups and businesses to remove blight, tend gardens and beautify the corridor.

Q. Scenic Michigan has long been focused on eliminating billboard blight and improving signage in communities. What is your sense as to how Scenic Michigan and the Eight Mile Boulevard Association can best work together?

8MBA has demonstrated a knack for finding ways to solve problems through partnership with stakeholders on all sides of an issue. Given our mutual interest in eliminating blight and improving signage, 8MBA and Scenic Michigan could bring stakeholders together, from municipalities to property owners, residents and billboard companies themselves, to come up with win-win solutions that achieve our shared goals.

Q. How can our readers learn more about the Eight Mile Boulevard Association? Are there Volunteer opportunities?

To learn more about 8MBA, visit us on the web at www.eightmile.org. In addition to our annual Clean the D event held each May, we are always recruiting volunteers for projects throughout the corridor. You can contact us through our website if you would like to get involved!

Scenic Michigan Invites You to Support the new Endowment Fund

In 2013 a generous donor established the Scenic Michigan Endowment Fund with the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation. The Scenic Michigan Endowment Fund will strengthen our organization while also offering our generous donors an opportunity to support our important mission for generations to come. The Scenic Michigan Endowment Fund is a simple and efficient way to build income for our organization. Our donors can be sure they are providing a source of lasting, permanent support.

A Solid Partner with the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation

The Scenic Michigan Endowment Fund is part of the Community Foundation’s pool of endowed assets. Thus, The Community Foundation’s economies of scale provide our organization the benefits of a diverse investment portfolio that typically come only with larger funds. The Community Foundation’s staff works closely with our staff and donors to help develop planned giving programs to assist our donors with bequest giving, gifts of stock or other assets which will benefit our fund and add to the long-term growth of our organization.

Every spring, the Community Foundation lets the club know what income we have available (market conditions permitting). The Community Foundation handles all the investment and administrative details – including investment management, donor acknowledgements, and quarterly reports. This gives us the time to do what we do best…to preserve, protect, and enhance Michigan’s scenic resources.

Ways you can support the Scenic Michigan Endowment Fund at the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation:

  • Cash: You can make a gift by check in any amount, or encourage your donors to contribute to your fund for a special occasion, such as a birthday or holiday. We offer easy-to-use, online giving by credit card, also.
  • Securities: Donate appreciated stock or bonds and avoid capital gains taxes. Your donors may claim a charitable tax deduction for the securities’ current market value. We request that donors call us before making this type of gift.
  • Estate Planning: Your supporters can leave a legacy to your organization by including your fund with the Community Foundation in their will or trust. They may also name your organization as a beneficiary of retirement assets or insurance policies. Your supporters can also accomplish their charitable goals with a Charitable Gift Annuity – a gift that provides income for them or a loved one for life.

Contact us to learn how you can support the Scenic Michigan Endowment Fund

Abby Dart, Executive Director, Scenic Michigan | (231) 881-6266 or info@scenicmichigan.org
David Jones, Executive Director, Community Foundation | (231) 348-5820 or djones@phsacf.org

Pellston Couple Win Billboard Lawsuit

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Billboard owner ordered to remove it.

It took Elaine and Harold Sevener of Pellston nine months of diligent research and thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees, but they won their battle against the firm that has owned and maintained a double decker billboard on their property opposite Pellston Regional Airport for the past 15 years.

The billboard which Emmet County District Judge Richard May has ordered removed by June 30 is one of more than a dozen that line airport row on U.S. 31, the largest concentration of billboards on one stretch of roadway in the county….

… The Sevener case turned on whether the Seveners notified the billboard company of their intent to terminate the lease at least 60 days before its actual termination date. Under the terms of the lease, failure to do so would have automatically renewed the lease for another 15 years.

The updated lease which the Seveners were assigned when they purchased the property nine years ago stated that the 15 year term of the lease began with the construction date of the billboard structure.

Outdoor Advertising later stated that the structure was built in May 1988, but state law prohibits erection of a billboard without a permit, which Outdoor Advertising obtained in mid-August, 1988.

The Severners, backed by MDOT, argued that the term of the lease began Aug 12, 1988 and thus the deadline for them giving notice of intent to terminate was Aug 12, 2003, not Jan 15, 2003, as Outdoor Advertising claimed.

The difference was critical because the Seveners sent Outdoor Advertising letters on April 29 and May 4, 2003 advising them that they wanted the sign removed from their property….

…Elaine Sevener said that she believes May based his decision on a finding that Aug 15, 1998 was the actual start of the lease and she and her husband had therefore notified Outdoor Advertising of their intend in time to avoid automatic renewal of it.

4th Annual Waterfront Wine Festival

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Wine Festival

Photos courtesy of Fred Gray.

Over 500 people attended the 4th Annual 2009 Waterfront Wine Festival (June 26, 2009) benefiting Scenic Michigan, making it the most successful event  in its 4 year history. Guests enjoyed sampling a wide variety of both regional and international wines, select gourmet cheese from Symons General Store and Wine Cellar, all to the fabulous jazz sounds of the John Driscoll Ensemble.

CMU Public RadioA special thank you to CMU Public Radio, the official media partner of the 4th Annual Waterfront Wine Festival.

Join us on June 25, 2010 for the 5th Annual Waterfront Wine Festival in beautiful Harbor Springs. Click here for more information.

Scenic Michigan Presents 2007 Hero Award to Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association

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_wsb_465x355_ScMi+003+vintners+assoc+award+4+webScenic Michigan has presented the 2007 Scenic Hero Award to the Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association. Accepting the award for the Association, was Adam Satchwell, President of the Leelanau Vintners Association and the winemaker for Shady Lane Cellars. The award is given to individuals or organizations that make a significant and lasting contribution to preserving and protecting the scenic character of Michigan’s roads and communities.

According to Scenic Michigan President Bethany Goodman, “The Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association are true scenic heroes for their commitment to not participate in billboard advertising to promote their wineries. The Association believes that to preserve the scenic beauty of the Leelanau Peninsula, residents and visitors to their wineries deserve a view from the road that is not marred by the blight of billboards. Instead, they have chosen to promote their world-class wineries through other means, such as an excellent website and many media publications. We commend and applaud their vision and hope the Vintners will set an example for businesses throughout Michigan.”

Scenic Michigan Presents 2007 Hero Award to Senator Tom George

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_wsb_321x354_Sc+Mi+008+sen+Tom+George+awardScenic Michigan presented the 2007 Scenic Hero Award to Senator Tom George (R-Kalamazoo) at the Capitol on September 12, 2007. The award is given to individuals or organizations that make a significant and lasting contribution to preserving and protecting the scenic character of Michigan’s roads and communities.

According to Scenic Michigan President Bethany Goodman, “Senator Tom George sponsored legislation, which was signed into law by Governor Granholm in December of 2006, that prohibits new billboards in Michigan and caps the numbers of billboards in Michigan at existing levels. Senator George is truly a Scenic Hero for his longstanding commitment to protect the view from the road. We commend Senator George for the enactment of this legislation which is so valuable to all who appreciate Michigan’s outstanding scenic beauty and seek to protect this beauty for future generations.”

Lamar’s First Punch to Elmira Township

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Issues: First Amendment free speech rights; Unlawful prior restraint on commercial speech; Township’s refusal to allow plaintiff to go forward with billboard construction along a state highway on the basis of later-enacted ordinances; Michigan’s Highway Advertising Act (MHAA); Whether plaintiff’s claims were ripe for review; Williamson County Reg’l Planning Comm’n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City

Court: U.S. District Court Eastern District of Michigan

Case Name: Lamar Adver. Co. v. Township of Elmira

e-Journal Number: 24114

Judge(s): Lawson

Since plaintiff satisfied all the requirements of the applicable laws in place when it applied for permission to erect the billboard at issue, defendant-township’s refusal to permit plaintiff to go forward with construction of the billboard along a state highway on the basis of the township’s subsequently enacted ordinance constituted an unlawful prior restraint of commercial speech.

Plaintiff, as part of its outdoor advertising business, builds billboards on locations it leases or owns and then charges advertisers a fee for displaying commercial and noncommercial messages on its billboards.

When plaintiff applied for permits to construct the billboard, only the Michigan Department of Transportation had jurisdiction to regulate the area where the billboard was to be located — the township had not yet enacted an ordinance under the MHAA.

The court concluded it was plain from the undisputed facts plaintiff’s application should have been granted under the rules in effect as of its application date and the township deprived plaintiff of its First Amendment rights by denying plaintiff a permit based on an improper interpretation of the zoning ordinance. The law in effect when plaintiff filed its applications did not disallow construction of a billboard at the location in question.

Plaintiff was granted summary judgment.

Read the Full Opinion Here

Sign Size Limitation Okay

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Issues:  Zoning; Art Van Furniture v. City of Kentwood; Muskegon Area Rental Ass’n v City of Muskegon; Sign-size limitation; Variance denial; Sign-size calculation method

Court:  Michigan Court of Appeals (Published)

Case Name: Norman Corp. v. City of E. Tawas

e-Journal Number: 24055

Judge(s): Schuette, Fitzgerald, and Bandstra

The trial court erred by reversing the East Tawas Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) decision denying plaintiffs a sign variance, holding defendant’s sign ordinance unconstitutional and authorizing plaintiffs to erect the sign for which the variance was requested.  The court held the defendant-city’s ordinance was constitutional and its sign-size limitation was valid.  Defendant’s planning commission denied plaintiffs’ sign-permit request because it found the proposed signs would exceed the number and size permitted under the city’s sign ordinance.  The ZBA denied the variance, holding plaintiffs’ problem was self-created.  The court further heldArt Van to be an incorrect statement of law and reversed its holding in lieu of Muskegon Area Rental Ass’n.  Like Art Van, this case presented a legislative maximum sign limitation that effectively distinguished between single- and multi-tenant buildings and the businesses they house.  The fact plaintiffs were treated differently then other businesses was not a predicate for finding the ordinance unconstitutional.  This was a legitimate government interest.  Limiting the size of signs to dissipate visual clutter was reasonably related to protecting the general welfare because visual clutter detracts from the community’s aesthetic value and may create dangerous distractions to passers-by.  Reversed in part and affirmed in part.

Sen. George Announces Legislation to Preserve Michigan’s Natural Beauty

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Senator Thomas George, R. 20th Dist., announced on December 5, 2003 legislation to preserve Michigan’s beautiful vistas. Senator George was joined by former Lt. Governor Dick Posthumus and former Attorney General Frank. Representatives from Michigan Township Association, Michigan Municipal League, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, and Scenic Michigan thanked Senator George for his farsighted concern for Michigan’s aesthetics.

“Few measures would have more impact on improving the aesthetic beauty of Michigan’s out-of-doors than reducing the clutter that billboards create in our open spaces,” Posthumus said.

Four states have banned the use of off-premise billboards. Maine, Hawaii, Vermont, and Alaska have chosen to maintain their landscapes and provide a more tourist and business friendly means of promoting services. Oregon and Rhode Island have placed a moratorium on new billboards and Vermont has shown an increase in tourism since the removal of all off-premise billboards.

“Part of the charm and attraction of Michigan is its scenic beauty,” George said. “We recognize that billboards provide important information to Michigan’s motorists and we do not wish to eliminate them. However, we have reached the saturation point.”

The new legislation would not eliminate billboard use but instead explore other effective means to help businesses advertise by creating:

A Billboard Advisory Council to define a best-practice approach for the billboard industry. It would consist of 12 members appointed by the governor for two-year terms.

A Billboard Cleanup Fund to help remove abandoned signs. It would be supported by renewal fee, which would be increased from $25 to $50 for billboards from 8 feet to 300 feet, and from $40 to $100 for signs larger than 300 feet, as of October 1, 2004.

A fifth logo – a low-cost alternative for advertising for tourist attractions and tourism/agriculture related businesses. Four logos – lodging, fuel, food, camping – exist now. The new logo would be administered by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

A moratorium on permits so no new billboard permits would be issued. Approximately 14,000 billboards have been erected in Michigan, and another 2,200 permits have been issued with no signs erected yet.

“During my long career, in which I traveled many hundred of thousands of miles around our beautiful state, it has only reinforced my long-held conviction that billboards do more damage to out landscape and vistas than any commercial or informational value they claim,” Kelley said. “At the very least Michigan should limit and control the proliferation of billboards.”

EPIC/MRA Statewide Survey

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Last fall, EPIC/MRA, a Lansing based survey research firm, conducted a survey with voters in Michigan about federal, state and local issues.

Voters were asked a variety of questions including their opinions concerning Michigan’s billboards. A majority of the respondents favored legislation that would reduce the number of new billboards located along Michigan highways and expressways.

Thinking about the number of billboards along major Michigan highways and expressways, generally speaking, do you feel there are too many, too few, or just about the right number of billboards?

  • 37% Too many
  • 2% Too few
  • 50% About the right number
  • 11% Undecided/don’t know

Between 1972 and the present day, the number of billboard signs along major Michigan highways and expressways has increased from 6,100 to about 14,000, and permits have been issued for several thousand more billboards that could be erected at any time. Knowing this, let me ask you again – do you feel there are too many, too few or just about the right number of billboards?

  • 53% Too many
  • 3% Too few
  • 34% About the right number
  • 10% Undecided/don’t know

Would you favor or oppose legislation that would ban any new billboards on Michigan highways and expressways, keeping in mind that the proposed legislation would no way affect existing billboard?

  • 38% Strongly favor
  • 23% Somewhat favor
  • 13% Somewhat oppose
  • 15% Strong oppose
  • 11% Undecided/don’t know

As you may know, current law allows logo signs at freeway interchanges to inform motorists of what gas, good, lodging and camping options are available at upcoming exits. Would you favor or oppose legislation that would allow tourist attractions to be included on these logo signs, thereby reducing the need for billboards to advertise tourist spots?

  • 47% Strongly favor
  • 29% Somewhat favor
  • 6% Somewhat oppose
  • 10% Strongly oppose
  • 9% Undecided/don’t know

Michigan State Senate Resolution

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A Resolution Commemorating Scenic Michigan Day, April 22, 2003

WHEREAS, it is with great respect for the natural beauty of our state and those who help preserve it that we commemorate April 22, 2003 as Scenic Michigan Day, recognizing the vital contributions that this organization has made toward improving and protecting the picturesque vistas which define this state.

WHEREAS, Scenic Michigan was founded in 1995 as a non-profit organization to preserve, protect, and enhance the scenic and aesthetic character of Michigan’s communities and roadsides. Scenic Michigan, an affiliate of Scenic America, helps citizens and elected officials guide their communities future.

WHEREAS, Scenic Michigan serves as an education resource to assist communities in the quest to preserve and enhance their distinctive character. Among the important contributions made by this statewide organization are the following:

  • Making Michigan roadways scenic
  • Protecting our communities and landscapes
  • Aligning “smart growth” with scenic growth

From their humble beginnings as a billboard control task force of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs in 1989, Scenic Michigan has grown to become an independent 501(c)(3) organization.

WHEREAS, Scenic Michigan’s efforts have resulted in measures that outlaw the destruction of trees or shrubs within a highway right-of-way, ban new construction of double-decker billboards, increase billboard permit fees, and promote the use of Tourist Oriented Direction Signs (TODS) and logo signs to efficiently promote businesses in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

WHEREAS, Scenic Michigan provides Michigan’s communities with tools that focus on conserving scenic roadsides, roadside vegetation, saving community identity, and protecting highway corridors; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED BY THE MICHIGAN SENATE, That we proudly commemorate Tuesday, April 22, 2003 as Scenic Michigan Day, and honor all those who have contributed to the significant accomplishments of this organization. We pay tribute to their past and ongoing efforts to preserve Michigan’s natural beauty for future generations; and be it further

RESOLVED, That a copy of this resolution be transmitted to Scenic Michigan as evidence of our esteem.