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Digital billboards in Gainesville back under consideration
Issue first came up 2 years ago but didn't gain traction
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Gainesville is once again considering allowing digital billboards to be erected within the city limits.

“We have asked staff to go back and look at it,” Mayor Danny Dunagan said on Monday.  

The issue first came up two years ago but gained little traction.

Now, following recent support from local business leaders, city staff is expected to prepare a proposal for council members to review later this year.

Limits on brightness, transition time between advertisements and the distance between billboards will be major considerations.  

In a recent email to City Manager Bryan Lackey obtained by The Times, Jimmy Adams, president of The Adams Companies in Gainesville, wrote, “Of the three locations I have leased to Fairway, I believe one could be impacted by this (potential) ordinance. Please know that my personal gain, if any, is not the only reason for my support.”

Adams said the ability to advertise public safety warnings, such as an Amber Alert, and provide weather, traffic and other emergency information for motorists on digital billboards makes it an advantage for the entire community.  

And a letter from Joe Wood Jr., president of Turner, Wood & Smith insurance agency in Gainesville, to council members also expressed support.

“This would be beneficial to my company,” Wood wrote, adding that it would allow for changes to advertisements without the substantial production work and cost of designing a regular billboard.  

There are close to 70 billboards in Gainesville, the vast majority owned by Fairway Outdoor Advertising.

Fairway owns an additional 32 billboards across Hall County, where digital billboards are allowed.

However, the restrictions imposed on digital billboards in unincorporated parts of the county, specifically the requirement that ads change only every 20 seconds, makes it cost-prohibitive for Fairway, representatives said two years ago.

Each digital billboard, which can cost between $100,000 and $250,000 to construct, has the capability of displaying six different advertisements.

Fairway wants to be able to show ads for as little as 10 seconds before changing.  

The digital billboards, if approved, would likely be erected at traffic lights and intersections where billboards already are located. They would be equipped with LED lighting and have a lifespan of about seven years.

Concerns about cluttering the local landscape with more and more billboards would be addressed by requiring the removal of old billboards before a digital one could be put up.

In fact, city officials said they hope to significantly reduce the number of billboards altogether.

“I’m for it,” Councilman Sam Couvillon said, adding that digital provides a crisper and cleaner look.

But there are concerns digital billboards might distract drivers, resulting in more accidents.

“I really don’t have a problem with it as long as we can have control of the brightness,” Dunagan said.

Councilwoman Ruth Bruner, however, said she would like to get rid of all billboards, but might be persuaded to accept digital if it means clearing out the rest.

“I’m not a fan of them, in general,” she said. “I hope they do become more obsolete. The problem is getting rid of the ones we already have.”