HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Weeks after a 45-day sign permit moratorium was enacted in Hiawassee, Mayor Liz Ordiales proposed the notion of allowing a digital LED billboard to be erected within the city limits. The multi-message sign would flash advertising promotions at eight-second intervals, intended for installation near the intersection of Main Street and Bell Creek Road.
The early November decision to temporarily halt permits within the city followed an amended ordinance by Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, banning additional billboards from entering the area. On Oct. 29, Mayor Ordiales stated during the city’s work session, “It doesn’t make sense for the county to do one thing and (the city) to do another,” suggesting that Hiawassee would review the current sign mandate, inferring potential revision of the ordinance to coincide with county regulations.
The mayor’s proposal to permit a multi-message, digital billboard, however, is in direct contrast with the county’s mandate. Towns County strictly prohibits the signage in question, as does the City of Hiawassee ordinance, which is currently in effect.
Upon invitation by Ordiales, Terry Poteete – a Gwinnett County resident with Affordable Outdoor Advertising Solutions, and the owner of 85 billboards strewn throughout seven counties, including the 55-foot tall, four-faced billboard located across from McDonalds in Hiawassee – addressed the full council during Monday’s work session. Ordiales divulged that Poteete had broached replacement of the static billboard with a digital version in February, though due to the current ordinance restriction, the request was denied. Poteete purchased the existing billboards in 2012.
The overwhelming consenus from the numerous citizens in attendance at City Hall revealed blunt opposition to the concept. Residents expressed strong distaste by describing digital billboards with adjectives ranging from “annoying” to “hideous.”
The possibility of removing exisiting billboards to allow for the digital version was mentioned by Hiawassee City Attorney Thomas Mitchell. According to Mitchell, the Department of Transportation (DOT) guidelines list that digital billboards must be spaced further than 5000-feet apart in distance. State law allows for a second digital sign to be installed on the opposite side of the street, however.
Hiawassee City Council expressed conflicting opinions on the matter, with Nancy Noblet clearly favoring the idea from the councilwoman’s subjective standpoint. Anne Mitchell and Amy Barrett voiced sturdy opposition, with Barrett stating that digital billboards “degrade the integrity of the mountains.” True to form, council members Kris Berrong and Patsy Owens remained relatively silent on the issue.
A Town Hall meeting was suggested by Hiawassee City Council, aimed to gain additional resident input prior to taking the matter to vote, with no known date scheduled at the time of publication.