Marietta’s zoning laws prohibit erecting any billboards within the city unless they are within 100 feet of Interstate 75. But in April, the council started discussing options, initiated by Councilman Jim King, to expand the zoning along Cobb Parkway and the 120 Loop.
Due to the requirement of a 500-foot distance between a new billboard and any residential property, the 120 Loop is ineligible for further billboard development and there are no spaces left on Interstate 75. But Cobb Parkway, where there are few homes and limited side streets, is prime real estate, King said.
Mayor Steve Tumlin said Wednesday that for businesses to reach a large audience, the billboards have to be on a major road.
The success of advertising in Marietta is apparent because there are no vacant billboards on Interstate 75 with signs reading “please rent me,” Tumlin said.
A movement to decrease the overall number of billboards in Marietta began with the 2009 revision of the city’s sign ordinance that required four standard billboards to be removed for every digital billboard that was built.
The strategy eliminated 23 older billboards, totaling 23,412 square feet of signage, according to a report by the city’s urban planner.
“Even residents that aren’t fans of new billboards embrace getting the number of signs down throughout the center of town,” Tumlin said.
King said since the model has fulfilled its purpose, it is time for the next step.
Councilwoman Annette Lewis, whose previous stance was that digital billboards were too jarring and hard to ignore, thereby likely to cause wrecks, said Wednesday she now thinks the digital billboards would look better than many of the standard signs around town.
King supported her reversal and added that digital billboards “are very stylish and versatile.”
The city ordinance prohibits animated signs, which includes graphic effects like fading and quick movements.
Still, the loop of images on digital billboards offers a more affordable option for businesses to buy a slot on the space for a percentage of the advertising fee.
“To see the same ad over and over isn’t effective. The messages have to rotate to keep them effective and fresh,” Tumlin said.
Tumlin said the digital billboards also offer an opportunity to provide updated information, especially public safety alerts.
At previous City Council meetings, Tumlin said he was worried taking down billboards was limiting the area’s freedom of speech and even asked the City Attorney Doug Haynie to advise the council if the city was overstepping its authority.
Haynie said the trade program, removing old signs for a new electronic versions, was voluntary and the city is not forcing or compensating business owners to participate.
The council will discuss the ordinance changes at its next meeting on Aug. 12.