A very short discussion at the Greensboro City Council Briefing Tuesday morning concerned the permitting of "Electronic Projection Graphic Signs" within the Central Business District. This discussion was prompted by the appearance of a large banner on the side of a building at the corner of Washington and Elm streets several month ago. A marketing firm projected graphics onto the banner from a building across the street.
Owners of the building and owners of the marketing company, with the support of Downtown Greensboro Incorporated, tried to convince several city boards that the projected image was not a billboard. When they were unsuccessful at this the projection was stopped, but the screen still remains. NOW marketing, Inc. apparently wrote a new sign regulation proposal which they submitted to the city. It was submitted to the City Council on NOW Marketing letterhead. The request was for conditional use permitted within the Central Business District.
Current billboard regulations in Greensboro allow billboards to be placed no closer than every 500 feet. The proposed ordinance would allow these electronic projection screens to be located as close as 300 feet apart. Billboards are strictly regulated and can only be place in areas zoned for their use. The Central Business District is not zoned for billboards; however, there are still a few which were grandfathered when the prohibition was enacted.
The largest billboard currently allowed anywhere in Greensboro has a total 450 sq. ft. size limit. This new proposed regulation would allow projected electronic images onto an applied surface or banner to be up to 500 sq. ft. and self-contained electronic signs up to 1000 sq. ft.
One of the council members commented that signs like that could be seen in Las Vegas. Another comment was "I guess size does matter."
The proposal suggested that cultural, artistic and other public service information would be displayed on the signs with only limited commercial advertisement allowed. Of course, the name of the service provider and contact information would be part of the projected image.
Greensboro Planning Department basically said in their comments that these electronic signs were indeed billboards according to the definition in the Development Ordinance and this proposal would allow the re-entry of billboards into the downtown area of Greensboro. Greensboro Legal Department said that "any commercial content on a sign makes it a commercial sign." And, generally regulating what goes on a commercial sign is a violation of free speech provisions of the first amendment of the US Constitution.
Now, don't get me wrong. I think that billboards have a place. I enjoy them in the proper place and of a reasonable size; but, what were these people thinking? The City Council almost did the right thing. They tabled the proposal. It will come up again. I personally think that they should have trashed it after they had a good laugh.
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