SNOW HILL – A change being considered at the county level will allow for the replacement of billboards in Worcester County.
A text amendment that would permit billboards to be replaced received the support of the county’s planning commission last week despite staff’s recommendation against it. The change would allow a billboard knocked down in a storm last year to be rebuilt.
“We just want to be able to put back the billboard that was there,” attorney Hugh Cropper said.
Cropper, representing Jack Burbage, said a summer storm knocked over a billboard Burbage had near Whaleyville. When Burbage made plans to replace it, they realized the county code did not allow for the reconstruction of billboards.
“I never knew this law existed,” Cropper said, adding that other entities in the county had replaced billboards.
He said that Burbage had maintained a modest billboard, not one of the huge steel ones lining portions of Route 50.
“I realize there shouldn’t be any new billboards,” Cropper said. “I realize that we should discourage them where appropriate, but you go up and down Route 50, there’s a lot of stuff there. I don’t think rebuilding this billboard’s going to make any difference.”
Cropper said that if the commission incorporated the restrictions recommended by county staff—that the sign be replaced with in kind materials, that electronic components be prohibited and that signs only be replaced when destroyed by forces of nature—the text amendment would do as intended, nothing more.
“You’re not going to open up a floodgate…,” he said. “It’s just really unfair to say if a true act of god comes along and you’ve got something that’s well maintained and it gets knocked down that you can’t rebuild it.”
County staff, however, expressed concern with the proposed text amendment and wrote in a report to the commission that language prohibiting the reconstruction of billboards had been in the zoning code for nearly 30 years.
“The objective of this language was to intentionally phase out billboards, which have been regulated since the passage of the Highway Beautification Act in 1965,” the report stated. “The proposed amendment is contrary to the spirit of federal, state and local laws.”
Ed Tudor, the county’s director of development review and permitting, told the commission getting rid of billboards in Worcester County had been a “longstanding policy” of local elected officials for years and years.
Commission member Mary Knight said that was interesting, considering how prevalent they were.
“This is 2021,” she said. “They’re up and down Route 50. I think they’re effective. I know in my old job we found it extremely effective to advertise on billboards throughout the whole East Coast.”
She said she had no problem with the text amendment. Her peers agreed.
“I can’t see not being able to replace it,” commission member Ken Church said.
The commission voted unanimously to forward the proposed change to the Worcester County Commissioners with a favorable recommendation.