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Hall considers request to allow electronic signs
One company owns all billboards in county
Fairway Outdoor Advertising has proposed that it will take down two old signs, such as these along Atlanta Highway, for every digital sign it puts up. - photo by Tom Reed

Digital billboards that can rotate several advertisements a minute could soon replace older static billboards in Hall County if the Board of Commissioners changes its sign ordinance.

Fairway Outdoor Advertising, based in Greenville, S.C., made a presentation to commissioners at Monday’s work session. Company executives said they would take down two old billboards for every digital sign the county allowed them to put up, similar to what they did in Oconee County. However, the digital billboards in Oconee County were the result of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by Fairway against the county.

One Hall County commissioner said the digital signs may look nicer, but he has safety concerns. The proposal is being evaluated by county staff.

“It’s a fantastic way for local governments to communicate with (their) citizens to get their message out and reach out to

transient traffic,” said Lou Ferrando, director of real estate for Fairway.

The company owns all the billboards in the county, about 32, said Srikanth Yamala, director of planning for Hall County. The county put a moratorium on new billboards in 2004 for appearance reasons, he said. The ordinance specifically prohibits new permits for billboards unless state or federal law requires them, the ordinance said. Hall County’s sign ordinance also includes limits on the height and size of the billboards.

“It would only affect Fairway,” Yamala said.

Fairway wants to relocate its billboards to more commercial areas in the county and redistribute some of the billboards off Atlanta Highway and Browns Bridge Road. It would reduce the number of billboards in Hall County and make the county look more attractive, Ferrando said.

The signs could also be used by local government and law enforcement to broadcast alerts and warnings, such as missing person alerts, severe weather information and national security information.

Yamala said he will contact other communities that have Fairway billboards to find out what the company did and how people there feel about it.

Oconee Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis said how people feel about the digital signs there depends on whom you ask.

“Obviously, that’s the trend and we will see more and more of them across the landscape,” Davis said.

Fairway filed suit against Oconee County on Sept. 22, 2011, after the former county code enforcement director rejected five applications the company had filed for signs it wanted to build, reported the Oconee Patch. The settlement agreement included three digital display billboards, the removal of three billboards along U.S. 441, withdrawal of three Fairway sign applications and the company’s promise of no new locations in the county for five years.

The company will cover all of the cost for taking down and putting up the new signs. The signs are about 35 feet tall. The face, or the area where the ad displays, is about 300 square feet. The digital billboards cost about $250,000.

Hall Commissioner Scott Gibbs said he’s concerned the rotation of the ads will distract drivers. Fairway can run six ads a minute on the faces of its signs. The images change every 10 seconds, but they won’t flash or blink, Ferrando said.

Commissioner Craig Lutz expressed safety concerns at the work session about the signs distracting drivers.

Davis said he could only speak for himself.

“For me, it’s not a distraction,” he said. “But that’s me personally.”