Spring 2016 Newsletter

By April 18, 2016Newsletter
Jim Lagowski

Jim Lagowski

President’s Message

In recent months, the Scenic Michigan Board of Directors and executive director have been working on a complete update of our strategic plan. This will guide our efforts for the next three to five years. A professional is helping facilitate and focus our planning efforts. While more needs to be done, and given our limited resources, it is already clear we need to concentrate on:

  • Long-term financial stability
  • Being a catalyst to encourage others who share our values
  • Developing strategic partnerships with like-minded organizations
  • In another part of this newsletter, you will learn how you can support us with a tax-free donation from your IRA.

Scenic Michigan Seeks New Board Members

Join our dynamic board and help preserve our scenic state

We are seeking several new board members to broaden our geographic coverage and professional strengths. If you share our values and have a passion for preserving and protecting Michigan’s scenic resources, please call us at 231-881-6266 or e-mail at info@scenicmichigan.org. Thank you for thinking about and supporting us.


City of Livonia Billboard Ban Challenged

Michael Fisher, Livonia Assistant City Attorney

Michael Fisher, Livonia Assistant City Attorney

Shortly after the City of Livonia was formed back in 1950, the City fathers drafted the city’s first zoning ordinance. Among other things, that original ordinance contained an outright ban on billboards, along with a grandfather clause protecting billboards already in existence. The last of those billboards came down in 1986, and Livonia has been billboard-free ever since. Perhaps needless to say, this is very unusual in the Detroit Metropolitan area: a 36-square-mile billboard-free zone crossed by two busy interstate highways—I-96 and I-275—and located just a couple of miles from the western boundary of the city of Detroit. Indeed, in the roughly two-mile wide zone outside Livonia’s borders, there are over 50 billboards!

While many motorists are no doubt glad for the brief respite they get while driving through Livonia, to the purveyors of billboards, a billboard-free zone is an anomaly subject to attack under a variety of legal theories. In 2001, a New York company called Nichols & Vann Media Group, LLC sued Livonia in the Wayne County Circuit Court, charging that the city’s billboard ban violated everything from the First Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Judge Edward Thomas dismissed the suit in a very thoughtful 16-page opinion. The city was awarded the 2002 Scenic Michigan Award, and when Nichols & Vann filed its claim of appeal, Scenic Michigan offered to participate in the case by means of an amicus (sometimes called “friend of the court”) brief.

Fortunately, Nichols & Vann withdrew its appeal, and Livonia was left alone to enjoy its billboard-free existence. Until 2013, that is. That’s when International Outdoor, Inc., a Michigan billboard purveyor, began its challenge to the city’s billboard ban. International Outdoor began its challenge before the Livonia Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). Its representatives argued that billboards (or their proposed billboards, anyhow) were necessary for local businesses, even though they couldn’t find a single local business to say so. In fact, the only business to address the matter argued that Livonia is a “city of quality” partly because it has no billboards.

Thwarted by the ZBA, International Outdoor filed suit in Wayne County Circuit Court, arguing that billboards are, in effect, mandatory—communities are powerless to say no to the billboard people. Nichols & Vann had made essentially the same exclusionary zoning arguments over a decade earlier, and Judge Kathleen Macdonald, like Judge Thomas before her, upheld Livonia’s ordinance. So International Outdoor appealed to the Court of Appeals. Appellate briefing is now complete, including an amicus brief filed jointly by Scenic Michigan and the Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Townships Association, the Public Corporations Section of the State Bar of Michigan, and Scenic America, and the parties are awaiting a schedule for oral argument.

Some nonparties are apparently waiting, too; rumor has it that Lamar Advertising is now scouting sites in Livonia.


New Tax Laws Benefit Nonprofit Organizations

Here’s how you can help Scenic Michigan

Last year, Congress and the IRS approved rules that let you donate tax-free funds directly from your IRA to any 501(c)(3) charity like Scenic Michigan. We hope you will consider this new tool to help support us.

Checks can be sent directly to Scenic Michigan or to our endowment fund c/o the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation: 616 Petoskey St., Suite 203, Petoskey, MI 49770.

Your accountant/CPA/tax attorney can give you details if needed.


Pure Michigan Byways Deserve Recognition

MDOT-managed program protects scenic highways and should be expanded

Leelanau Scenic Heritage Route

Leelanau Scenic Heritage Route

There are many benefits for a road that applies for and receives a Scenic Byway designation. These include preservation and economic, community, and educational benefits—all of which enhance the unique character of a particular region.

One important preservation benefit is the public recognition of the Pure Michigan Byway designation, which recognizes that the stretch of highway has unique scenic, historic, or recreational resources worthy of identification and preservation. An important aspect of preservation is to provide the community with the knowledge and background to encourage appropriate growth and management of the byway.

The economic benefits of a byway designation are numerous. The community can market the byway and the local attractions to encourage both tourism and enhance local businesses along the route. Potential for job growth and tourism-related development is also enhanced.

Part of the application process for the Pure Michigan Byway designation requires that the community engage in strategic planning and visioning. This visioning relates to the both the background of the stretch of highway and the justification for the designation, which requires the partnership of communities that enjoy access to the proposed byway.

Finally, a key part of the Pure Michigan Byway application process involves educating the community on the resources, information, and benefits of a byway designation. The lessons learned from the process are a great asset to any community who seeks to preserve and protect their scenic resources.

Scenic Michigan welcomes your input for additional byway designations. There are many scenic stretches of highways that would benefit both in terms of protection of scenic resources and an increase in tourism. A few that are worthy of mention include Highway 131 from Cadillac to Grand Rapids, Highway 10 from Sanford Lake, Highway 2 along the northern shore of Lake Michigan in the eastern Upper Peninsula, and the Southwest Michigan area near Saugatuck.


Billboard Advisory Council Submits Recommendation

Recommendations of the Michigan Billboard Advisory Council, December 4, 2015

billboardsWith the passage of PA 2 of 2014, the Michigan Billboard Advisory Council was created.  The Council was charged with advising the Michigan Department of Transportation and the State Transportation Commission regarding voluntary agreements entered into under section 18b(1) of the Highway Advertising Act, lighting and any other general policy for the effective control of outdoor advertising.

Director Steudle appointed the following members in accordance with Section 252.318c:

  • Sen. Tom Casperson, Chair, Senate Transportation Committee
  • Rep. Peter Pettalia, Chair, House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee
  • Jerrold Jung, Chair, a representative of the Transportation Commission
  • Abby Dart, Scenic Michigan, a representative of the conservation community
  • Bill Jackson, a representative of the outdoor advertising industry
  • Kelly Wolgamott, Director of Marketing, MEDC, a representative of the tourism industry or a trade group that represents statewide tourism interests
  • Chris Graff, Hank Graff Chevrolet, a representative of the general public. Shall be a private sector lessee of billboard space whose business is located in this state
  • Ken Griffin, Director of Marketing, BOYNE, a sign owner that resides in the state

The council received staff support from Matt DeLong, Administrator of MDOT’s Development Services Division, Melissa Staffeld, Highway Advertising Specialist for MDOT and Phil Browne, Deputy Commission Advisor and Legislative Liaison, MDOT.

The council convened multiple meetings, engaging in extensive roundtable discussions regarding the current state of outdoor advertising and how it relates to the Department, the outdoor advertising industry, the advertisers and the motoring public. The Council was treated to presentations on a variety of topics including the current regulatory and statutory environment, industry trends, lighting, festival advertising, special challenges in underserved areas such as the Upper Peninsula, LOGO and TODS signage, Pure Michigan, and Scenic Routes. We would like to extend a special thank you to Mark Sherwood from Lamar Outdoor, Jerry Dobek from Northwestern Michigan College, and Mark Bott from MDOT for coming in to provide some of these presentations.

The Council makes the following recommendations to the Michigan Department of Transportation and the State Transportation Commission:

  1. The Department should develop a voluntary agreement regarding special event signs defined as a temporary advertising device not larger than 32 square feet in area erected for the purpose of notifying the public of noncommercial community events, including but not limited to fairs, centennials, festivals and celebrations open to the general public and sponsored or approved by a city, village, township, county, school or the state and listed on the Pure Michigan website so that they may be placed on private property with the owner’s consent no more than 30 days prior to the event and must be removed no later than 24 hours after the event. In developing this voluntary agreement, the Department should look at policies in other states.
  2. The Department should develop a voluntary agreement whereby billboard companies could be encouraged to best use technology where applicable to minimize the impact of lighting on the surrounding environment.
  3. The Department should develop recommendations whereby opportunities for signage in rural or scenic areas can be offered that would include a more rustic feel and be smaller than traditional billboards and fit with the fabric of the community in which they are placed. This agreement should be developed with stakeholder involvement.
  4. The Department and the State Transportation Commission should engage the legislature to review and revise the fee structure for outdoor advertising with accountability and transparency so that the administration of the Act, including but not limited to necessary information technology upgrades and enforcement actions are covered by the fees assessed under the Act.
  5. As the balance between natural beauty and outdoor advertising needs is an important facet of the laws and policies regarding outdoor advertising, continuation of dialogue on how to preserve existing natural beauty areas should continue.
  6. The Department should reconstitute a version of this Council to continue to develop the recommendations above for a duration not to exceed six months from the time of organization of a reconstituted Council.

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