Gainesville officials have reached a compromise to allow digital billboards within the city limits after nearly three years of negotiations and threats of a lawsuit.
Close to 70 billboards are located in Gainesville, with the vast majority owned by Fairway Outdoor Advertising.
Fairway owns an additional 32 billboards across Hall County, where digital billboards are allowed.
Though digital billboards are a growing trend, and offer advantages to the public, their advantages also come with caveats.
Limits on brightness, transition time between advertisements and the distance between billboards were major considerations for city officials.
City officials also wanted to reduce the number of billboards altogether.
In a presentation to City Council a few years ago, Fairway representatives said each digital billboard, which can cost between $100,000 and $250,000 to construct, has the capability of displaying six different advertisements.
They would be equipped with LED lighting and have a lifespan of about seven years.
Fairway had previously submitted 15 applications for permits to convert existing “static” billboards into digital displays, all of which were denied.
Fairway then threatened to file a lawsuit.
“We had been negotiating for quite some time,” City Manager Bryan Lackey said. “I thought things were progressing well. Before they dropped the threat of litigation, they didn’t want any restrictions on timing.”
City officials were willing to give Fairway several years to make the conversions.
Representatives from Fairway did not return a call for comment prior to deadline.
The agreement, which City Council approved this week, requires that Fairway must remove two existing billboards for every digital billboard it converts within the first two years.
That means, according to the terms obtained by The Times, that Fairway will remove 14 “static” billboards and convert another seven to digital displays.
City officials initially wanted a 3-to-1 ratio for the number of billboards to be torn down versus the number of new digital displays.
Lackey said Fairway was pushing for a 1-to-1 ratio.
“I didn’t think we’d get that, to be honest …” Lackey said. “We ended up where we thought we were going to be.”
After the second year, Fairway has an indefinite amount of time to remove 18 existing billboards and convert just five.
The digital displays cannot exceed 300 square feet in size and their height is limited to 35 feet; must use brick or stone around base poles to a height of 10 feet to improve aesthetic; and must be placed on or within 50 feet of an existing spot.
Moreover, displays must last at least 10 seconds and the transition between messages can be no more than two seconds. There can be no flashing or scrolling advertisements, and there are limits on brightness, as well.
Fairway is required to make the digital displays available to local, county and state law enforcement for emergency messages, such as Amber Alerts, weather-related warnings and other public safety information as needed.
Fairway must also donate time for the city to display event and community messages eight times each calendar year for up to two weeks. The city’s messages would be added to the advertising rotation.