Scenic Michigan Ambassadors

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Do you care deeply about protecting Michigan’s scenic resources? If so, we would love to have you join the Scenic Michigan Ambassador Program. Our mission is large, and it’s challenging to keep abreast of local issues and threats to scenic resources—so we’re hoping that you can help us be more effective and efficient in our work. We envision our ambassadors being our eyes and ears across the state . . . and occasionally, perhaps, even a spokesperson for Scenic Michigan.

By signing up to become an ambassador, you’re not committing yourself to anything but you are helping us identify who our strongest allies are across the state. To start, we’ll ask you to send us pictures of the “good, bad, and ugly,” keep us informed about issues you hear about in your local communities, and help us identify organizations and individuals we can partner with to become more effective in our work. And we’ll welcome any ideas you have for improving the reach of Scenic Michigan across the state. Send Erica an email at if you’re interested in joining our program or if you have questions.

M-134 North Huron Scenic Byway

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In 2015, M-134 was the first route to be designated as a Scenic Byway under the Pure Michigan Byways program, formally known as Michigan Heritage Routes. This byway is lined with forests, stunning lake views, and charming communities (go to to learn more about the communities and attractions along this route). Regrettably, it is also marred in spots by obtrusive advertising signs that detract from the corridor’s beauty and conflict with the intent of the Pure Michigan Byways program.

Scenic Michigan member David Betts has been doing some outstanding work documenting the need for a corridor visual improvement program on M-134; he was the inspiration for our new Scenic Michigan Ambassador Program. Thanks to David’s in-depth research and documentation of signage blight, Scenic Michigan is aware of an issue affecting an important corridor in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We’re looking forward to working with David and other partners in the area to build the local support needed for a corridor visual improvement program along M-134.

Meet Our New Executive Director

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Erica BriggsScenic Michigan’s board is excited to introduce our new executive director. In January, we hired Erica Briggs to lead Scenic Michigan. Erica worked closed with outgoing director Abby Dart to ensure a smooth transition in organizational leadership. We thank Abby for her years of service to Scenic Michigan and hope you will join with us in welcoming Erica to the Scenic Michigan family.

Erica comes to Scenic Michigan with an extensive background in nonprofit management, transportation and land use policy, communications, legislative affairs, and policy analysis. Her background is a great fit with Scenic Michigan’s needs and many of the goals our board identified in our recent strategic planning process.

As one of her first tasks, Erica has embarked on a listening tour to learn how Scenic Michigan can strengthen past partnerships and build new ones to advance our mission. In addition to meeting with organizational partners, she is interested in reaching out to current and past members to hear your ideas. However, one of her challenges in doing this is that we’ve realized we don’t have email addresses or phone numbers for most of you. Sending out paper mailings is both expensive and time consuming. If you’ve received this mailing, we implore you to take a moment to go to our website ( and fill out the contact form prominently featured on our homepage (click the green button below our photo banner that says “Sign Up!”). Or, if you prefer, feel free to call us at 231-725-8116. We look forward to hearing from you soon. – Jim Lagowski

Developing a Scenic Roadmap for Michigan

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As you may recall from our last newsletter, thanks to the help of a generous donor, Scenic Michigan partnered with the Land Information Access Association in 2017 to produce a report outlining Michigan’s scenic roadway designations and the physical locations of these corridors. We are pleased to report back on some of our interesting findings in this newsletter and direct you to the Resources page on our website to access the full report/map.

We discovered there are approximately 1,450 miles of designated “byways” in Michigan organized in six road categories. The six categories are National Forest Scenic Byway (47 miles), National Scenic Byway (97 miles), Pure Michigan Byway—Historic (413 miles), Pure Michigan Byway—Recreation (438 miles), Pure Michigan Byway—Scenic (223 miles), and Natural Beauty Road (229 miles). The majority of these roads are found in counties bordering the Great Lakes, but there are still hundreds of miles of roads that are inland. Of the 83 counties in Michigan, 43 have one or more road segments classified as National or State Byways, and 30 counties have one or more road segments classified as Natural Beauty Roads. Based on 2010 U.S. Census statistics, approximately 75 percent of the state’s population lives within ten miles of a scenic roadway, and approximately 93 percent of people in Michigan live within 25 miles of a scenic roadway.

In 2018, we’re embarking on a second phase of this project, which involves developing an interactive online map that will be located on our website and provide more detailed information about each scenic byway. We hope this map will not only inspire you to visit these notable corridors in our state, but also join our advocacy efforts to maintain and enhance their scenic beauty.

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

Spring 2016 Newsletter

By | Newsletter
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 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.

Spring 2015 Newsletter

By | Newsletter
Jim Lagowski

Jim Lagowski

President’s Message

Spring is the ultimate bringer of change… snow melts, flowers bloom, trees bud, and people feel a sense of renewal. This year spring represents change for Scenic Michigan as well. You may have noticed our new Scenic Michigan logo! Thanks to very generous major donor support, we have contracted with the esteemed Public Sector Consultants for a redesign of our logo, letterhead and website. We are thrilled with our new look and can’t wait to showcase these products this spring with a complimentary social media campaign. Look for Scenic Michigan on Facebook and Twitter @Scenic Michigan.

We are very excited about these changes as well as our new office in Ann Arbor at 1100 North Main in historic Kerrytown. We are fortunate to be located in the New Center which houses not-for-profit organizations like Scenic Michigan. Very economical and strategically important as we work to build relationships with south-southeast Michigan, an important step in our long term survival and effectiveness. Our business office will remain for now in Petoskey. Say hello to our Executive Director Abby Dart when you are in Ann Arbor.

This location shift in day-to-day operations has already paid dividends, with Downriver (from Detroit) Mayors of 18 communities, a follow up to a presentation by Abby and longtime Board member Pam Frucci from Grosse Ile. We are working with Detroit officials on sign issues in that community. This Spring, we hope to be working with the 8 Mile Rd. Association, a consortium of 14 communities along the 8 Mile Rd. corridor from Lake St. Clair to Livonia. In the meantime distribution of our award winning Michigan Sign Guidebook continues.  If you or any one in your community would like a CD of this 200-plus-page document just ask.

Scenic Michigan’s 10th Annual Waterfront Wine Festival

This year the highlight of the event is a raffle of a cruise for two on the luxurious Haimark line to one of their 9 day itineraries to North, Central or South America! (air, port taxes not included. Subject to availability)

This year, the highlight of the event is a raffle of a cruise for two on the luxurious Haimark line to one of their nine-day itineraries to North, Central, or South America! (air, port taxes not included. Subject to availability)

This event is the major fundraiser for Scenic Michigan

Please join Scenic Michigan on Saturday, June 27, 2015, 4 to 7 P.M. for the 10th Annual Waterfront Wine Festival on the bay in beautiful Harbor Springs. The Festival features wine tastings from around the world, delectable appetizers from area restaurants and live music from the John Driscoll Ensemble. A highlight of the festival is the raffle which includes the chance to win one of several prizes ranging from gift baskets of wine and food to wine related packages. Tickets in advance are $20 and $30 at the door. Admission includes 2 tastings, a complimentary wine glass and complimentary food. Additional wine tasting tickets are $2 each or 6 for $10 or 12 for $20.

New this year is a $50 VIP pass which includes unlimited tastings and a signed poster by this year’s esteemed area artist Margaret Tvedten. In addition, VIP guests will have the opportunity to consult with special guest wine sommelier Tony Zanotti. Tickets will be available online beginning April 1, 2015 at and at area venues. VIP passes are available only online and are limited in quantity.

Check out the Waterfront Wine Festival on Facebook to see posters from previous years and to keep updated on all the Festival news!

Scenic Michigan to Present Cass Tech High School Senior with Scholarship

Scenic Michigan will be awarding the first annual Scenic Michigan $1,000 College Scholarship to a Cass Tech High School Senior who writes the winning essay on the topic of “Why community appearance is good for Detroit.”  The deadline for submission was April 1, 2015 and the award will be presented at the annual Cass Tech Scholarship event. One senior will be selected by the Scenic Michigan Board on the strength of his/her essay and the scholarship check will be presented by Executive Director Abby Dart and Board Members.

Cass Tech High School

Cass Tech High School

Scenic Michigan selected Cass Tech to highlight the Scenic Michigan’s work with the City of Detroit as a partner with community leaders who seek to revitalize and beautify the city.  Executive Director Dart commented that “It is so important for students, who are the future residents and leaders of Detroit, to see how scenic beauty plays a critical role in creating great cities.”  Cass Tech Guidance Counselor Walter Stevenson, Jr. thanked Scenic Michigan and noted “by allowing our students to compete for your generous scholarship award, you have opened yet another door of opportunity to our Technicians for the possibility of a more successful college experience!”

Scenic Michigan seeks to expand the scholarship program to additional schools in Southeast Michigan as funding becomes available.  If you are interested in donating earmarked funds for the scholarship program, please contact Abby Dart at

Detroit City Council May Allow Billboards in Downtown Business District

Change of zoning ordinance would reverse longtime prohibition against billboards

Possible billboard blight on the historic Detroit Guardian building

Possible billboard blight on the historic Detroit Guardian building

The Detroit City Council is considering amending its zoning ordinance to permit billboards, including digital billboards in the downtown business district.  Prohibited for over twenty years due to driver distraction and aesthetic concerns, new proposals from the Outdoor Advertising Industry have spurred the Council and Planning Commission to reconsider the regulations.

The proposal is still under review but it appears that historic buildings are not protected from digital displays and the area under consideration includes an area with several historic districts.  Scenic Michigan Board Member Larry Keisling and Executive Director Abby Dart appeared before the City of Detroit Planning Commission in February to share information and concerns about digital billboard.  Keisling, the former Planner for the City of Detroit, explained the issues regarding distraction and the intrusion into downtown dwellers, where last count indicated that over 6000 residents live in downtown Detroit.

Stay tuned for further updates as the proposal is discussed and debated by city officials.

 2015 is the 50th Anniversary of the HBA … Not a Reason to Celebrate!

Pamela Frucci

Pamela Frucci

The Highway Beautification Act signed into law in 1965 was initiated by Lady Bird Johnson. She had driven through Stowe Valley, Vermont, known for its ski resorts, and noted there were no billboards to spoil the snowy countryside. Her thoughts turned to having the whole country not billboard free but at least fewer in number and not so big and blaring. She convinced her husband President Lyndon Johnson that this country needed a strong billboard law limiting the number of billboards to only 5–6 per mile and size to no larger than 300 square feet. With President Johnson’s prodding, Congress passed the HBA.

Her proposal backfired when the Outdoor Advertising Association of America was called upon to write the rules of the act! The word from Congress was “They know something about billboards.” The OAA of America loves the Highway Beautification Act! They wrote the rules that billboards could be up to 212 per mile (two-sided) and up to 48,000 square feet (so that giant tire on I-94 would be legal). Back in Lady Bird Johnson’s time there were 300,000 billboards. Now there are 500,000!

While in Vermont in 1987, I talked to Tony Ciaraldi, the ski resort owner from Stowe Valley who, along with his sons, chainsawed all the—then—wooden billboards. Resort owners ended up advertising their resorts by word-of-mouth. It was Stowe Valley free of commercial billboards that attracted the attention of Lady Bird Johnson.

If you really want to get mad about how the billboard industry got away with covering America the Beautiful with billboards, read the article by Dr. Charles F. Floyd, professor and chair of the Dept. of Real Estate and Legal Studies at the University of Georgia in 1979 entitled “Billboard Control Under the Highway Beautification Act—A Failure of Land Use Controls.”

My first brush with billboards was in 1976, 63 years after reading an amazing story of how in the year 1913 the now State of Hawaii worked 14 years to finally remove the last billboard in their territory. I was inspired by how a group of bustled ladies in the organization Outdoor Circle campaigned to challenge the proliferation of commercial signs that they said were “ruining the health and beauty of Hawaii.” Up until then the billboard companies were unchallenged, but Outdoor Circle changed that!

In 1913 Outdoor Circle took over the entire issue of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser in Honolulu and filled it with anti-billboard messages. Children wrote essays on the detriment of billboards and photos of the worst billboards were printed in the newspaper. (I have a copy of that 1913 newspaper!) The women got a red rubber stamp with large letters that read “anti billboards” and stamped their envelopes, checks receipts, and letter heads. They got public sentiment on their side and in 1927 the last billboard came down. The then territorial governor signed legislation banning billboards. Today only three other states that are known for their scenic beauty—Alaska, Maine, and Vermont—ban billboards.

Scenic Michigan has been working since 1989 to preserve Michigan’s scenic beauty. Why? We embrace noted naturalist John Muir’s theory: “People need beauty as well as bread.” We won’t be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Highway Beautification Act or Michigan’s version of the act. Both laws don’t work! What’s beautiful about rows of commercial billboards along our highways?

Pamela A. Frucci (member since 1989)
Scenic Michigan Board of Directors

Fall 2014 Newsletter

By | Newsletter

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 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 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
David Jones, Executive Director, Community Foundation | (231) 348-5820 or