Residents Debate Digital Billboard
LaGrange News Media
By Alicia B. Hill
January 4, 2017
LaGrange, GA - Commission chambers were unusually crowded on Tuesday morning, as residents and small business owners stated their arguments for and against a digital multiple message billboard on Hamilton Road.
The sign was up for a second reading which would usually mean a vote for or against, but due to the sheer volume of questions raised at the meeting regarding the sign the commissioners moved to take a vote at a later meeting. The LED display was last discussed in the commission's Dec. 20 meeting.
"This is commercial property," said Ken Reagan of KK&L Real Estate, who is applying for the conditional use permit. "I have had it for years, and everything around it is zoned commercial, and this is going to be a commercial billboard. ... This is going to be a beautiful billboard. It's not going to be trashy looking."
The property where the billboard is located is on a .49-acre lot on Hamilton Road that was made smaller back when that part of Hamilton Road was widened. It would not be possible to build a business at that location, but residents of the nearby Bryant Lake subdivision were strongly opposed to the construction of a digital multiple message billboard at that location due to its proximity to the subdivision entrance.
"Progress is a good thing, and LaGrange does need to grow, but cleaning up all of the corridors (leading into town) is costing the city a lot of money and putting a billboard sign that to me looks like Vegas and should be along the interstate is not cleaning up the corridors," said Steve Turner, a resident of Bryant Lake. "We are aware that it is commercial property... but when you have commercial properties, it comes with clean landscape as well as smaller signs."
The LED sign was previously granted a variance to the usual 1,000-foot requirement from a residential structure. The county zoning board felt that the light generated by the sign would be less significant than the light from passing cars to the two homes on the other side of the road from the sign at 2172 and 2188 Hamilton Road. The homes beside and behind the sign that would face the sign's rear were not taken into consideration. This variety of sign would be prohibited within city limits, mere feet away from the sign's base.
County staff is recommending that the county deny the permit based on the sign's location along a section of road that both the county and city hope to beautify in order to create a nicer, greener entrance to town.
"The staff felt that with it being (Quality Development Corridor) and a city gateway that it was inappropriate for this particular location," said Senior Building Official Jay Anderson. "The staff recommended to deny, and if the use is approved, the staff recommends (certain conditions)."
Those conditions would require the sign to remain on the front left corner of the property where it was shown on the paperwork submitted to the county, that the sign face be 12 foot by 24 foot with a maximum height of 30 foot, minimal tree removal and proper permitting from the department of transportation.
Local business owners speak in favor
A representative from the sign's manufacturer was on hand to answer questions regarding the sign, especially light and traffic concerns.
"It sounds like one of the concerns for residents across the road is brightness, and I want to assure you that our products are all built with the intelligence to dim the display down to the proper brightness," said Mark Steinkamp, who is over regional sales for Daktronics, Inc., the company that manufactures the type of billboard that Reagan hopes to place on the property. "It is all about the level of ambient light and making the brightness of the board appropriate for that level of ambient light, so we work with the industries - the billboard industry and the sign industry - to come up with this automated photocell that really keeps the brightness at the proper level. ... We have 3,000 of our billboards out working in the field today, and they are all controlled the same way."
Daktronics is a South Dakota-based business that is currently a leading manufacturer of LED road signs, and the company does have other signs operating in the state of Georgia. A photocell on the front of the sign senses the light around the sign 24/7 and uses that lighting level to determine the sign's brightness at any given point. Any issues with brightness can be addressed through Daktronics' control center.
Commissioner Ellis Cadenhead expressed concern for possible road glare from the sign when the road is wet, but Steinkamp stated that that has not proven to be an issue with the company's other signs because of the lighting controls. Commissioner Lewis Davis likewise expressed concern regarding white light from the sign, but Steinkamp stated that the controls on that were also in line with current regulations.
"Most everyone of you here today are very familiar with that corridor," said former-Commissioner Tripp Foster, who spoke in favor of the sign. "There are bail bonds, there are rental companies with their equipment everywhere, there is a big carpet store. There is a digital sign - lighted sign - in front of Troup High School which is very nice... but this is zoned for commercial. It is commercial all the way around this, and it is my understanding that when you turn into Bryant Lake subdivision for almost 7/10 of a mile its zoned also where commercial can move in there inside the gates of the subdivision."
Several small business owners spoke at the meeting in favor of the sign and expressed possible interest in advertising on the sign, but none of the Hamilton Road business owners spoke for or against the sign at the meeting.
"I advertise on the parkway now, and I get a tremendous amount of phone calls from that billboard sign," said Brent Bishop of Well Worth It. "Where this location is at is going out to the county - that is where 95 percent of my business is at is out in the county, not in the city. I don't think there is one minute's problem with a sign facing towards the city of LaGrange, advertising for the people - the small business owners - of LaGrange, Georgia. Period."
Realtors and residents speak against
Meanwhile, the concerns of the residents of Bryant Lake revolved around property values that they felt could be negatively impacted by the sign at the entrance to their subdivision, and that the subdivision, which is located within the city limits, would never reach its potential if the sign is installed.
"We currently have a housing crisis in Troup County," said Kendall Butler, a local realtor. "... Troup County has done a phenomenal job of recruiting manufacturing and jobs to the community. ... However, the housing inventory is at the lowest that it has been in 10 years. ... Troup County has added 8,100 jobs since 2010, so in that same period of time adding 8,100 jobs, we have a 2,600 home deficit."
Those new developments - ranging from the Great Wolf Lodge to Sentury Tire - should bring thousands of jobs to the region, but there are not currently enough homes to house the new residents who are expected to move to the area for jobs. According to Butler, part of why people considering moving to the community are buying homes elsewhere is the lack of availability of homes in the county.
"There are great things going on in Troup County, however, we are not recruiting homeowners," said Butler. "... Bryant Lake is one of the subdivisions that is set to compete with homes in Coweta and (Lee) County, so as the people who are taking these jobs are coming into work in LaGrange, they look in the region at housing. And over and over we hear that people want to live in newer construction homes with pool and tennis communities, and there is only one subdivision in Troup County that has a pool and tennis community - has a full amenity package - and has lots available for builders to build in. It also has a 25-acre lake. That is Bryant Lake."
Butler pointed out that more homes lend to retail growth and the sign could discourage potential home buyers in much the same way that its potential installation was already upsetting current home owners.
"None of those residents (who spoke for the sign) were from Bryant Lake where we live," said Ronald Stafford, a Bryant Lake Resident. "... I don't have the luxury of not looking at that sign if I don't want to look at it."
Several of Bryant Lake's residents spoke in favor of more businesses in the area, but they were cautious of a sign in that location that would "appear to be a part" of the Bryant Lake subdivision.
"A lot of the points brought up today about independent companies wanting to advertise - free or paid - that's all great," said Ken Pearson, a Bryant Lake resident. "... I think it all comes down to location and where is best to put that."
There are currently 52 homes in Bryant Lake with two more homes currently under construction.
State approval of the sign would be contingent upon the county's approval, and state Department of Transportation approval would also be necessary because of the sign's location. Any complaints about billboards or possible hazards on Georgia highways should be made through the Georgia Department of Transportation at www.dot.ga.gov/BuildSmart/Pages/ContactUs.aspx.
"If you have an issue or concerns or issues that come up about signs, or you have to contact the DOT, please contact the county," said Chairman Patrick Crews. "We have a great roads and engineering gentleman here and our county manager, so anytime any citizens have concerns, please let us know because that's how we know what things are going on... We depend on our citizens a lot to know what is going on and what concerns them."
The Troup County Board of Commissioners plans to vote on the conditional permit regarding the sign at their regular meeting on Feb. 7 at 100 Ridley Ave.