Fort Smith officials review billboard regs

There are only 189 that fall under the jurisdiction of the city of Fort Smith, but billboards and their regulation were the focus of a Fort Smith Board of Directors study session held Tuesday (Jan. 22).

The board has passed a moratorium on the construction of new billboards and conversion of conventional billboards to digital pending a review of city policies and, if necessary, changes to billboard ordinances. Members of the Fort Smith Planning Commission were also in attendance at the study session.

Wally Bailey, director of Development Services for the city, said city planning staff has worked with a group of five “stakeholders” to review the policies. The group is: Loyd Childree, president of Clear Channel Outdoor in the Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas areas; Chip Paris, director of Client Services for Williams-Crawford & Associates; Craig Roberts, managing partner of RAM Outdoor Advertising; Lorie Robertson, client services with Rightmind Advertising; and Ryan Zaloudik, a real estate manager with Clear Channel Outdoor.

The group settled on a “baseline discussion” to address areas in which existing ordinances are unclear or do not provide guidance. Those areas are:
• Height of proposed outdoor signs;
• Maximum size of outdoor signs;
• Distance of signs from residential areas;
• Regulation of V-type outdoor signs;
• Digital signage;
• Number of signs allowed in the city; and,
• Rules on city regulation of outdoor signs in the extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) range of Fort Smith.

Bailey said there are 189 signs in the city and ETJ, with maybe another 10 applications in the pipeline before the moratorium was enacted. Bailey said most cities have a “cap and replace” rule that sets a limit on the number of billboards but allows a company to “bank” the number of billboards they own. For example, if a company has 100 billboards when the cap is reached, they can remove a billboard, and build another one in an area that meets the code.

As to billboard size, Bailey said the billboard companies were willing to limit the size to 378 square feet on interstates, but down to 300 elsewhere.

City staff is also considering a distance of 250 feet between the centerpoint of a billboard and the closest property line of a residential tract.

There are no city ordinances for digital signs. Bailey said city staff may consider adoption of regulations in place by the Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department so the rules are consistent along the interstate and state highways.

Also, there are no city codes regulating billboard heights. Bailey said staff is considering a minimum requirement of 13 feet and a maximum of 45 feet.

Bailey also noted that billboards are not allowed in the downtown Fort Smith areas within the Central Business Improvement District, and they are not allowed at Chaffee Crossing.

Childree, who was at the Tuesday session, said Clear Channel is always eager to work with municipalities in order to seek consensus and consistency.

“I’m excited with the fact that the city brought the stakeholders together to have input on this. And I was also pleased that the emphasis was not to be punitive. We look forward to working with them through this process,” Childree explained.

Fort Smith City Director Keith Lau said he hoped Bailey and the working group are able to return to the board with a set of rules and/or rules changes that all parties find amenable.