ROHE—Group Offers Advice on Billboard Control

By February 11, 2003News

Published in the Lansing State Journal
February 6, 2003

Michigan has much to do in reducing signage along roads

Time is precious in our hectic lives. Often, we find the most precious elements yield to more pressing concerns.

If a billboard were placed in the oldest section of Michigan State University’s campus, there would be an outrage. Every one of us would react to the insult to a precious place.

But when one more billboard clutters the roadside, we drive on by. Often, we can’t be bothered. If maintaining places worthy of our affection is still important, then Scenic Michigan’s mission is your mission.

Scenic Michigan, an affiliate of Scenic America, is a non-profit group in the business of preserving and enhancing the aesthetic character of Michigan’s communities and corridors.

We successfully backed a measure making it a felony to destroy trees or shrubs within a highway right-of-way. We have halted new construction of double-decker billboards. We have arranged for billboard permit fees to become more commensurate with administrative costs.

Scenic Michigan promotes the use of Logo Signs and Tourist Oriented Direction Signs (TODS). These signs along major highways provide helpful information to the traveling public without intrusive blight.

Scenic Michigan provides communities with tools to conserve scenic roadsides, roadside vegetation, community identity and tasteful highways. Billboard companies often look to the First Amendment in defending intrusive signs. For communities interested in regulating billboards, Scenic Michigan, with a grant from the Frey Foundation, has arranged for a team of lawyers and planners to develop: “Recommended Elements of a Sign Ordinance.” We freely provide this to municipalities for the asking.

This document enables municipalities to meaningfully make a statement to defend their aesthetic character before it is eclipsed by more “litter on a stick.”

Our Scenic Resource Inventory Guide provides communities with a cookbook recipe on how to implement a plan for a specific corridor.

If you would like more information on the “Scenic Resource Inventory Guide” or “Recommended Elements of a Sign Ordinance,” write to info@scenicmichigan.org .

People interested in protecting community aesthetics are invited to attend Scenic Michigan’s Annual Conference on April 7 in Mount Pleasant.

Tourism goes hand in hand with respect for the place. We can treat our motoring tourists with a trip through the Yellow Pages on the road. Or, we can dignify their visit with respect for them and our land.

Scenic Michigan knows that billboard blight clashes with an economy for tourism. The 14,000 billboards now lining Michigan’s roadways intrude upon our landscape and devalue our greatest asset.

Alaska, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont are billboard free. They recognize the relationship between respect and tourism. When Vermont banished billboards, tourism increased by 50 percent. Let’s unite in respecting our fragile place.

Maintaining and enhancing the vistas, whether urban, rural, or vacation land, is just good business and good long term investment for the people of Michigan.

Deborah Rohe is president of Scenic Michigan