County halts applications for the next four months while reconsidering ordinance

Commissioner enacts electronic billboard moratorium

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Roughly two months after approving a new digital billboard ordinance, Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor did an about-face at Wednesday’s public meeting and issued a moratorium on applications to construct such billboards for the next four months.

“We’ve had a lot of controversy on billboards and we amended the ordinance a couple of months ago and we’ve got several applications today and it’s not having the intended effect yet,” said Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson. “So we need to work a little more on that ordinance.”

Taylor ordered the moratorium to take effect at 11 a.m. Wednesday — which gave him just enough time to make final decisions on four electronic billboard applications. 

The first, a request from Trinity Baptist Church to erect a digital billboard on seven acres at 1511 Joe Frank Harris Parkway, was the sole denial issued by Taylor.

“I bought that lot in ’86 with the hopes that my kids would build a house on it,” said Danny Moss, a resident of the subdivision adjoining the church property. “I’m not exactly sure of their placement, but it’s probably 150 feet, maybe, at the max, away from the property line, and I just think that’s too close.”

Furthermore, Moss said the area was already cluttered with a surfeit of billboards. 

“If you ride down 41, Bartow is not beautiful,” he said. “Right now there’s 22 billboards between where the church wants to put their billboard all the way just to Tennessee Street … that’s a mile-and-a-half.”

Taylor agreed that mile and a half cone was congested with billboards. In fact, he said his department actually counted up more than 22 within that area. 

An application from Galen McDaniel for a digital billboard on 2.45 acres of land at 1275 Joe Frank Harris Parkway, however, was approved. 

The request did face opposition, however, from a representative of the Bartow County Board of Elections and Voter Registration.

“This billboard could have political overtones to it,” said Ken Cathcart. “We have to protect the integrity of the voters of this county and if that billboard uses political advertisements, it’s going to be a heyday here.”

Although the billboard would be close to the County’s voter registrar and polling place — approximately 350 feet away from the property — it nonetheless is outside the 150-foot radius where State law bans political advertising.

“Your argument, legally, is not valid because any candidate can run an ad on a billboard anywhere up and down 41,” Taylor said. 

McDaniel’s application was approved, albeit with the condition that — in exchange for erecting the new billboard — he take down one “traditional” billboard along Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive on Highway 41. 

Taylor likewise approved two requests to construct digital billboards along Highway 20 — one from Horton Outdoors and one from the trio of Mauldin Investments, Square One Capital and Terry Howren. 

“This could be the last one that’s approved for quite a while,” Taylor remarked after inking the paperwork on the latter application.

Olson said, at this point, Bartow County may have hit its threshold for such signage. 

“The Board of Zoning Appeals has granted about five or six in the last year or so, so we’re starting to get a surplus of these digital billboards and I think we need to relook at how we regulate them,” he said. “We got four [applications] last month, we didn’t get any this month — and we have heard from some in the industry that you had to be careful of having too many billboards … we may be reaching that saturation point from a market point.” 

Taylor said he wholeheartedly agreed.

“The market will not carry them all,” he said. 

Also approved by Taylor at Wednesday’s meeting was a moratorium of an entirely different sort — one putting a halt to construction within the proposed path of the Rome-Cartersville Development Corridor for the next two months.

“This is really to protect the future homeowner who might buy a home in the pathway of the road, so the moratorium will stop that home from being built,” Taylor said. 

The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) is in the advanced acquisition phase and asked for more time to conclude discussions with impacted property owners.

“We didn’t want new folks moving into brand new houses only to get told that there’s a road about to get built right through it,” Olson said. “The property owners are going to get paid by [GDOT] … they’re just in negotiations for the dollars.” 

Other items of interest from Wednesday’s commissioner’s meeting include:

— The approval of a $103,000 contract for civil engineering firm VHB  to help the Cartersville-Bartow Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) put together an updated long-range transportation plan.

— The approval of a $60,000 contract for Moreland Altobelli Associates to conduct a study for the MPO, evaluating the feasibility of a new railroad crossing in downtown Cartersville.

— The approval of an $18,000 agreement with Clean Energy Consultants to conduct a feasibility study for potential gas scrubbing at the local landfill. “So, simply put, we’re studying the fact that we can sell the methane from the landfill back to the grid and get paid for it,” Taylor said. 

— The approval of a license agreement with MetroAtlanta Ambulance Service for the private company to utilize the County’s public safety radio system. “They’ll pay a monthly fee per radio, and this is their agreement to abide by those rules and regulations in the system,” Olson said.