By JEFF DURBIN, Missourian staff writer
February 18, 1999

Editor's note: Boone County is gearing up for a series of public hearings around the county on proposed land-use revisions. This is the third article in a three-part series examining several of the proposals. Tuesday we looked at scenic road protection; Wednesday, sexually oriented businesses.

Today: Limits on billboards


Driving into Columbia from the east, you could plan a weekend by billboards.

The eating would be good, with weight gain a strong possibility at the city's cafes, steakhouses and all-you-can-eat buffets. You'd have a dozen hotels to choose from, with the Jacuzzi suite as the most attractive option. Shopping trips would range from cowboy boots to antiques to cement statuaries. It wouldn't be a terribly cultural weekend, but for fun there'd be archery.

But Missouri, long friendly to billboards, is reconsidering the relationship.

The Missouri legislature opened the door to local regulation with a 1998 law allowing municipalities and counties to enact standards stricter than state limits.

"The billboard industry sees the handwriting on the wall," said Stan Shawver, Boone County planning director. "As long as they have the opportunity to put up billboards, they can live with anything else."

Boone County is on the verge of presenting a billboard proposal to the public as part of its revised zoning regulations.

Darin Fugit, vice chairman of the county Planning and Zoning Commission, said the county is heading in the direction of regulation. He plans to support regulations of some type.

"I drive 63 down to Lake of the Ozarks," Fugit said. "It's nice in the spring to have everything greening up. When you've got a bunch of billboards, it's hard to enjoy the drive."

Earlier this month, spurred by installation of two giant double-decker billboards on U.S. 63, Ashland declared a six-month moratorium on billboard construction while it drafts an ordinance. Columbia has attempted regulation for nearly a decade.

Under Boone County's proposal for the Interstate 70-U.S. 63 corridors, a sign can be up to 45 feet high - about half the height of the new Ashland billboards - and 2,000 feet from another billboard. State roads such as Route E and Missouri 124 would be regulated as well, with a maximum billboard height of 12 feet and minimum spacing of 500 feet.

Currently, billboards on U.S. 63 may be as close as 300 feet apart, and there is no limit on height.

The commission is also looking at a model ordinance sent by Scenic Missouri. Karl Kruse, the group's executive director, said it was drafted by a panel of attorneys appointed by the Missouri Municipal League.

Supporters say the model is useful because it's written with language that can stand up to a court challenge. Sixty Missouri communities have requested a copy.

Kruse said the county proposals are too generous.

"Forty-five feet in height is four and a half stories," Kruse said. "That's a very, very tall sign. If the goal is to protect the visual environment and be readable and efficient, then it's too much."

Kruse said Missouri has three times as many billboards per mile as its eight neighboring states, mainly because of a regulatory loophole allowing billboards on unzoned land if there is commercial or industrial activity within 600 feet.

Bill May, executive director of the Missouri Outdoor Advertising Association, said he agrees that communities have the right to regulate billboards, as long as restrictions are reasonable and advertisers can still follow existing industry standards.

Most people surveyed have said they find billboards useful, May said.

"In Missouri, about 90 percent of outdoor advertising is tourist-related," he said.