Posted: 3:37 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012

Law gives billboard companies power to cut down trees

By Robyn McGlohn

CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

A new state law will go into effect on March 1 that could change Charlotte’s landscape.

The law allows billboard companies to cut down trees around billboards on state highways. The law also strips the city of Charlotte of its power to protect trees.

The law has some residents up in arms.

“People want to live here because of the trees,” said Judy Barnes, the president of the Garden Club of North Carolina. “Seems that the billboard companies want to clear cut around these billboards when they’re perfectly visible as they are.”

But according to the state’s Outdoor Advertising Association, the trees are blocking the signs. They said they have received hundreds of complaints from advertisers, so they took those complaints to the state legislature to lobby for change.

Currently, billboard companies can clear up to 250 feet around their signs. The new law will allow them to clear up to 380 feet from their billboards.

The law also gives the Department of Transportation the power to trump local and city ordinances.

“This is basically a slap in the face,” said Bill Gupton, the president of Charlotte’s Sierra Club. “It supersedes a lot of the work and the desire of our local community to keep Charlotte green and clean.”

The cities of Charlotte, Asheville, Durham and Huntersville, including the coalition of mayors, have all opposed the bill.

The law does say cities will have 30 days to dispute any changes, and if it involves a city’s beautification project, the billboard company must have a mitigation plan, but it does not require trees to be replanted.

One of the areas of biggest concern in Charlotte is along Independence Boulevard, a state highway. Advertisers argue the trees are blocking the billboards.

There is already a proposal that shows what Independence Boulevard would look like without trees.

“They may get 30 days, but I don’t know if it makes a difference,” Barnes said.

Gupton said it is now up to every city and town to protect their landscape.

State Sen. Bob Rucho co-sponsored the bill, but has not responded to requests for comment.

The DOT said the new law will cost the state an estimated $15 million in tree loss. Replanting the trees will cost another $3 million, DOT officials said.

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