Sandy Springs may OK heightening an LED billboard that is blasting light into a neighborhood in a swap that would bring down two regular billboards on Roswell Road. But some residents and councilmembers are concerned that it might not solve the problem and instead create more.
Because of the concerns, the City Council decided at a Feb. 4 meeting to defer the vote on the proposal to a March 17 meeting.
“I think the pluses of this are well known; I think we’ve quantified them,” City Councilmember Andy Bauman said at the Feb. 4 meeting where the proposal was heard. “I want to use these six weeks to, among other things, answer some questions about exactly how much they need to raise this, and I would not want to go one inch higher.”
All of the billboards are owned by Lamar Company, LCC. The deal would allow Lamar to raise the height of an LED billboard, located off Carpenter Drive and next to the I-285 exit ramp, to 85 feet from the current 50 feet. In exchange, Lamar would remove double-sided billboards located at 6390 and 8613 Roswell Road.
According to a billboard consent agreement approved by the city in 2012, if there is a change in existing billboards, it cannot be done by a zoning application. The council must decide if the change should be done.
The height change is being considered because residents from the Laurel Grove complex at 346 Carpenter Drive have complained that the light from the LED billboard shines into their windows frequently.
“The billboard is too low,” City Attorney Dan Lee said at the meeting. “The lighting interferes with the quiet enjoyment of the condominiums.”
The owners of the Comfort Inn hotel at 5793 Roswell Road have also had guests complain and are in favor of the height change, according to Lee.
“This is the only way we know of to rectify the problem that the condos have and it is in line with improving the look of Roswell Road,” Lee said.
According to the city, Laurel Grove residents have been complaining about the billboard for years.
Nick Brown, the vice president of Lamar, said the company is willing to make the agreement because it will help the residents.
“Lamar is willing to remove two full-sized billboards in the heart of Sandy Springs adjacent to Roswell Road,” Brown said in an email. “The proposal will also help the condominium owners and the hotel adjacent to our digital sign on Interstate 285, who have asked to have the sign raised above their window level.”
According to Brown, the LED billboard was installed in 2012 but Lamar did not purchase it until 2016.
Two residents spoke in opposition to the deal at the Feb. 4 meeting, saying the city needs more time to weigh the potential outcomes of the option.
Bob Lepping, representing the Glenridge Hammond Neighborhood Association, questioned whether the altered LED sign would be visible from Glenridge Drive and how to estimate that. Lepping also questioned whether the billboard will be more visible to the neighborhood if additional trees are taken by the Georgia Department of Transportation for the upcoming I-285 toll lanes project.
“Once the final plans for construction are executed, will it be even more visible?” Lepping said at the meeting. “Are there any unintended consequences for this proposed height increase?”
Ronda Smith, the president of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods, questioned the deal as well.
“I ask you to think through all of the aspects and potential impacts on this proposal,” Smith said at the meeting. “In practice, does a deal like this just trade one problem for another or for a series of problems for the broader community?
“Does this also then set the tone for future requests for height changes to the other LED billboards in place?” Smith asked.
The council requested that city staff identify the exact amount of height needed, determine the impact to Glenridge Hammond and confirm the best possible deal. Lee said the staff can use drones that can measure the exact height needed.
“This does come down to a balancing of pure quality-of-life issues for confidence that this won’t open up a Pandora’s box on the consent agreement,” Bauman said.
Bauman also raised the question of whether the billboard company is leasing the properties and if the city has the authority to have them removed.
“We have confirmed the removal of the static billboards will be the removal of the static billboards,” Lee said. “We don’t have to worry about that.”
City Councilmember Tibby DeJulio asked if the property owners losing the billboard companies as lessors could renegotiate a new lease to bring back more billboards.
“If they go ahead and take down these two static billboards, how can we be assured that the property owner is not going to lease the space to somebody else and put another static billboard out there?”
Lee said that according to the city’s consent agreement, no additional billboards can be put up.
“The properties are non-conforming for billboards,” Lee said. “Once these billboards are down, they can’t go back up.”
The City Council voted unanimously to defer a vote on the proposal until March 17.
This is not the first time the city has considered a billboard swap. In 2017, a deal to remove the two-sided billboard across from City Springs, the city’s civic and art complex, in exchange for allowing LED versions elsewhere was considered, and eventually killed, by the council.
Now, the city is in the process of trying to remove those same billboards across from City Springs, after a year-long lawsuit, and is attempting to speed up its court battle. On Jan. 17, the city filed for an emergency order in Fulton County Superior Court in order to remove the billboards to make way for a temporary fire station driveway.