Town right to stick to its guns on billboards

IT WAS OGDEN NASH, the American poet and humorist, who wrote, “I think that I shall never see, a billboard lovely as a tree” - with apologies to Joyce Kilmer.

With that in mind, town of Plymouth officials deserve credit for sticking by their codes and declining a variance to allow construction of two new billboards along the east side of State 57 between County C and State 23 earlier this month.

The proposal from Ten Pas Sign Co. would have required a variance from the town’s requirement that billboards be placed a minimum of 1,000 feet apart.

Proponents of the billboards noted that the town’s requirements are more stringent than the state’s, which require only 300 feet between billboards.

That may be true, but the state’s requirements are written as bare minimums, designed to fit all possible landscapes across the state, from metro freeways to rural scenic highways. Each local municipality is free to make their codes stricter as they see fit.

Indeed, one need go no farther than a drive up U.S. 41 from Fond du Lac to Oshkosh, Appleton and Green Bay to take in the visual clutter that the looser state standards have wrought.

There are stretches of that freeway that literally teem with billboards, one on top of the other, chockablock.

Given the commercial and residential sprawl along much of that highway, the visual impact of that many billboards is not as jarring – but it would be alongside the largely rural scenery that makes up the east side of State 57 north of County C.

The town is right to try to minimize the impact of billboards in rural settings as much as possible.

Proponents of the billboards also noted that other such signs along State 57 in the town are closer to each other than allowed under the code and felt they should be granted the same privilege.

It’s true that the rules were ignored, for whatever reason, in the past, but that does not mean they should continue to be ignored – if anything, it makes the case for stricter enforcement of the town’s rules from here on out.

Some on the town’s Board of Adjustments suggested reducing the request to one sign, but the response was that only one sign was not economically feasible.

If that’s true, it is still not enough to trump the esthetic and safety concerns for not granting the variance.

A valid point was raised that too many signs along that stretch of State 57, added to the three traffic lights in a space of less than two miles, would exacerbate the distractions to drivers along that stretch and make it less safe.

At least there are no traffic lights along U.S. 41 on the west side of Lake Winnebago to compound the distraction of the billboard clutter there.

There is a valid need for billboards and their contribution to a healthy local economy is true. But that needs to be balanced with safety and esthetic concerns.

Plymouth town officials were right in weighing all those concerns and reaching the conclusion they did for this latest sign request.

At issue:
Billboard variance denial
Bottom line:
The right call on State 57

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