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Local billboard policy stands intact

FORSYTH COUNTY — After some recent discussion, the Forsyth commission has decided against revising the county’s billboard policy.

The matter came to the commissioners’ attention after a change at the state level earlier this year.

“The issue was that [Georgia], and I believe this is the product of the last legislative session, is now allowing certain billboard companies or billboard owners to seek a vegetation management permit that will allow them to … cut down or cut back trees that are basically blocking viewing of the billboards,” said County Attorney Ken Jarrard.

“The state law also says, ‘However, if you take us up on securing one of these … permits, in order to do this you also must lower a sign.’ You have to lower it to 75 feet, but then it says ‘so long as such lowering is allowed by the county.’”

In Forsyth County, billboards are not allowed to be built or rebuilt, and existing ones are considered legally nonconforming. The distinction means that they are an exception to code, since they were there before it was adopted.

“We no longer allow billboards in the county… we don’t allow them to come down or be rebuilt at all,” Jarrard said. “So in Forsyth County, if you want to lower a sign … we don’t allow that because our code doesn’t allow it.”

To stop sign owners from getting the benefit of cutting down the trees without having to actually lower signs, the commission considered allowing signs to be lowered.

“What the board was grappling with was whether … to change the sign ordinance,” Jarrard said. “The board, at least for the time being, decided against that.”

Some commissioners considered lowering billboards to be counterproductive, as doing so could make them more visible.

“Are you [visually] polluting more when they’re way up high, or when it’s more down in your face?” Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills asked. “I hate to change it and then everyone’s mad because we changed.”