Commission postpones action on billboard laws

Published 12:04 am Friday, May 20, 2016

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Planning Commission delayed considering proposed changes Thursday to the city’s billboard ordinance.

The delay, commissioners said, was due in part to the upcoming municipal election.

Interim City Planner Riccardo Giani recommended tightening the rules governing large, off-premise advertisements on city streets, including a reduction of the maximum size, doubling the required space between billboards and adding specific language outlawing double-decker boards.

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Commission member Deborah Martin made the motion to table the proposed changes after hearing a presentation from Natchez Preservation Committee member Liz Dantone.

Dantone said she supported Giani’s recommendations, but asked the commission to consider an expansion to the existing scenic corridors, where no billboards are allowed.

The entirety of John R. Junkin Drive and segments of Liberty Road and Seargent S. Prentiss Drive should be included in the scenic area where billboards are forbidden, Dantone said.

“I want you to take a broader view,” Dantone said. “I want you to think about our major thoroughfares.”

The Natchez Board of Aldermen first moved to forbid billboards in the city’s scenic corridors in 1994, and gave outdoor advertising companies 10 years to collect revenue from the signs before removing them.

Giani recently discovered the ordinance, and said many signs are still in the scenic corridors, 12 years past the deadline. Giani said he is currently working on contacting the owners of those billboards, who will be given 90 days to remove them at their own expense.

Some signs on the additional roads where Dantone suggested billboards be outlawed wouldn’t require 10 years to phase out, she said. Smaller, less expensive billboards could be removed in as little as three years.

“The time is right because there is a discussion right now, there is interest,” Dantone said. “I understand change in administration is on its way.”

Commissioner Butch Johnson said he would prefer to wait until the new administration was in place in July.

“If we’re going to consider these changes, I’d rather do it all at once so it doesn’t look like we’re creating work (for the aldermen),” he said.

Martin said after the meeting she moved to table the motion so the commission could submit both the text amendments and the expansion of the scenic corridors to the board of aldermen at one time.

Before the expansion of the scenic corridors can be sent to the aldermen, Martin said, public hearings would have to be scheduled so property owners and representatives from the billboard companies could be notified.

“We want to do it all,” Martin said. “We have more work to do on it, and instead of having this board that’s currently in office approve the part we have, and then we come back the next month with the second half of what we’re doing, the entire thing will be approved at one time.”

The commission also approved a special zoning exception to allow Natchez Brewing Company to relocate to an empty former warehouse on Canal Street.

Natchez Brewing Company head brewer Patrick Miller said at the meeting the brewery was not allowed by state law to sell alcohol on site, but would offer tours and tastings.

Local resident Mike Blattner, who owns the warehouse building and lives in the only adjoining property, antebellum house Cherokee, said he is in support of the move.

“We bought that building to control the destiny of our property,” Blattner said. “I just want to go on record to let you guys know as the only adjoining property owners, we’re supporting this.”

The special exception was approved unanimously.