Controversial billboard can move, but must comply with strict conditions first

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - You can still see the electronic billboard flashing through the thick fog Tuesday morning, but not much of it. That's because half the sign is being blocked by the new Snapper's seafood restaurant that's being built at the corner of Highway 90 and Rodenberg Avenue. The owner of the billboard, Lamar Advertising, says the sign is a valuable tool to the community.

"In addition to providing the public service resource that we have, we've delivered time sensitive messages from hurricane evacuation notices and others to Biloxi families, business owners, and tourists," said Charlie Furman, Lamar Vice President and General Manager.

"It is something that is utilized. I've utilized it many times. Probably will continue to do so, not likely if it's still sitting up where it is now," said Biloxi businessman Mike Boudreaux.

On Tuesday, supporters asked the Biloxi City Council for permission to relocate the sign at least ten feet closer to Highway 90. However, the city's Director of Community Development says the sign is technically illegal. Jerry Creel says last year, Lamar got a permit to change the lighting on the sign. Instead, he says the company changed the sign from a paper billboard to an electronic one.

"Basically what happened was they took down the old billboard and put up a new one, which would constitute demolition," said Creel. "Anytime you have demolition, any attempt to put a new sign up, it has to completely comply with the new regulations."

"An illegal sign is an illegal sign," said Biloxi resident Chevis Swetman. "No matter what they do and how they try and maintain this sign. I am asking this council to obey the law, and just say no. Make them take the sign down and make them obey the law like everybody else has to."

The Mississippi Department of Transportation also has concerns about the billboard. Anthony McFarlin, the Utility Coordinator for the Southern District, says MDOT doesn't have a problem with where the sign is now. But if it moves any farther north from its current location, it would be too close to the highway, which he says, would violate state ordinance.

"I just oppose all billboards on Highway 90 in the city of Biloxi," said Ward 5 Biloxi Councilman Tom Wall. "This and every one that comes up here, I will vote against it."

"This is the only billboard we have on Highway 90 in Biloxi, and I would perceive it be an historic object that we ought to do everything we can to save it," said Ward 4 Biloxi Councilman Mike Fitzpatrick.

After hearing the arguments, the council voted four-to-three to allow Lamar to move the sign. However, the company must come back with site plans that comply with zoning and setback requirements. The Biloxi City Council and MDOT will have the final say on whether the revised plans meet all city and state regulations.

The reason the sign can't go any higher is because the state only allows billboards to be 40 feet tall. Councilman Fitzpatrick recommends that the company build an arm that extends from the existing post, so the billlboard would hang away from the restaurant and be more visible. Lamar is considering building a monument-style sign that's shorter and closer to the ground.