Bothering to talk about billboards

January 29, 2001 12:00 am

There are towns where the city council wouldnt have even bothered to have the discussion.

Fortunately, Baker City is different.

Last week, the Baker City Council took time to discuss the virtues of billboards both in general and as relates to a proposal by Meadow Outdoor Advertising of The Dalles.

Meadow requested a zoning change for a piece of property it owns adjacent to Interstate 84.

The property is zoned residential, even though its size and location makes it unlikely that anyone would erect a dwelling there.

The billboards there, which would be forbidden under the residential zoning, were grandfathered in when the zoning was put in place in the late 1970s.

Last week, the city council cleared the way for a re-zone of the property to general-commercial. That zoning allows for billboards, with a conditional-use permit.

But before moving forward, the council took time to hear some public concern about the aesthetics of billboards and to discuss concerns of their own.

This could have been a problem had the discussion derailed the companys proposal, which calls for replacing the aging wooden supports of two existing billboards with modern metal ones.

The new posts will also elevate the billboards. Their height will remain, however, several feet below the limit set by the city. Approval was the right thing to do.

Still, the merits of billboards and their potential damage to a communitys appearance was a discussion worth having.

We would have wanted that discussion to take place if the proposal was to erect new billboards. And, in that case, we might have even wanted an outcome other than easy approval.

The council is an appropriate place for our community to discuss common developments like billboards, cell towers, strip malls and the other attributes of Anywhere, U.S.A.

Because this is Baker City. In the upcoming years, preserving our special sense of place may mean calling on developers to temper their private property rights with their responsibility to the community.

But that sort of request can only follow an intelligent discussion.

Which is why we were happy last week to see the council trade in its rubber stamp for a healthy dose of rumination.