Local Government Law Bulletin March 18, 2014

Review of Zoning Ordinances Regulating Billboards Recommended In Light of Recent Amendment to the Highway Advertising Act

Federal law mandates the states to establish procedures for the effective control of signs along regulated routes. After a two year process, the Governor recently signed into law Public Act No. 2 of the Michigan Public Acts of 2014 (the “Act”), which amends the Highway Advertising Act of 1972 to bring Michigan into compliance with current Federal regulations regarding billboards and digital signs. The enactment of the Act ensures that Michigan will avoid the loss of Federal highway funds for failure to comply.

The Act defines “digital billboard” as “a sign or sign structure that utilizes an electronic means to display a series of messages that are changed by electronic means.” Specifically excluded from the definition of digital billboard is a “sign that contains an embedded electronic message device or a trivision sign.”

An “embedded electronic message device” is an accessory that is made part of a sign, sign face, or sign structure with a total area that is less than that of the sign face to which it is attached, and displays only static messages containing text or numbers that are directly associated with the current advertiser. Embedded electronic message device does not include a digital billboard or a device that displays graphics other than messages containing text or numbers. A trivision sign is a “sign or sign structure that uses mechanical means to display more than one message in sequence.”

The Act also proscribes the brightness of digital billboards, the frequency of ad rotation, and how digital billboards may be lit. With respect to the spacing of digital billboards, the Act provides that a sign utilizing a digital billboard permit is not permitted to be closer than 1,750 feet to another sign utilizing a digital billboard permit on either side of the highway facing the same direction of traffic. However, the Act provides certain exceptions for digital billboards erected before the Act.

Local zoning ordinances that regulate the operation, size, lighting, or spacing of signs and sign structures are permitted to be more stringent than the Act, but cannot be more permissive.

Please review your zoning ordinance to ensure that your billboard regulations are in compliance with the Act. If you have any questions concerning whether your zoning ordinance complies, or would like assistance in amending your billboard regulations, please call your Mika Meyers municipal attorney.

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