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Vicksburg seeks to phase out more billboards

[10/6/04]Billboards and bars that don’t serve food could become things of the past in downtown Vicksburg if proposed ordinances are approved by the mayor and aldermen.

The Zoning Board of Appeals voted Tuesday to recommend changes to the city’s code of ordinances that would eliminate both in certain areas. If the City Board acts favorably on the suggestions and passes the ordinances, they would take effect 30 days later.

No signage change would be immediate. Under the new ordinance, billboards inside the city limits would be amortized over the next five years, meaning their value would be reduced to zero, and torn down. The proposed law would exempt billboards along state and federal highways such as Interstate 20 and U.S. 61 that are governed under state law.

Speaking briefly before the Zoning Board, Mayor Laurence Leyens indicated an eagerness to see the new ordinance go into effect, indicating about 16 billboard signs would eventually be removed by the ordinance.

A representative of Lamar Company LLC., which owns most or all of those billboards, said that the company will pursue legal action against the city to keep their signs. Lamar filed a suit in federal court in 2003 against Vicksburg after the city took action to remove one of the company’s leased signs.

Mark Herbert, a Jackson attorney representing Lamar, said that the lawsuit could end up costing the city millions of dollars.

“These amendments do not correct any of the problems that already exist,” Herbert said.

Under the existing city ordinance, billboard signs are prohibited except along state highways. Existing signs are allowed to remain under a sign ordinance adopted in 2002, but cannot be altered or rebuilt to extend the life of the billboard.

Although the proposed ordinance does not change size limitations for business signs, it will require property owners to obtain an annual permit for signs. Dalton McCarty, the city’s zoning administrator, said there will be no fees for the annual permits.

The change regarding bars would include businesses such as The Hill Top Lounge, 1515 Washington, where a fatal shootout took place in August. Four others, including the alleged second shooter, were wounded. The business, now closed, served beer.

McCarty, however, said that the reason for the change was because of parking requirements for a bar.

Under existing city ordinance, bars are required to have three parking spaces for every 50 square feet of business space while restaurants are only required to have one parking space per 50 feet. The downtown area was exempted from those parking requirements earlier this year.

Today, there are only two downtown businesses that are considered a Class C restaurant or bar that would be banned under the proposed ordinance, but both would remain legal since they already have permits.