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Billboard's a sign of anger

Residents say it mars their view, want it removed

Published: Friday, Aug. 27 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

County officials accuse Reagan Outdoor Advertising of reneging on promises to remove this billboard erected in the Olympus Cove area.

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

Enlarge photo»

Salt Lake County residents might soon see Mayor Nancy Workman stand before an Olympus Cove billboard and proclaim (with apologies to a former U.S. president):

"Mr. Reagan, tear down this sign!"

While it in no way compares to the monumental history of the Berlin Wall, the billboard at 4013 S. Wasatch Blvd. has generated plenty of controversy on its own. Reagan Outdoor Advertising erected the sign earlier this year amid howls of protest from local residents, and the billboard provided much of the impetus for the County Council to change the county's sign ordinance last May — a symbol of the controversy over billboards throughout the Salt Lake Valley.

"This is the billboard the community is judging us on," said county planning and development services director Jeff Daugherty.

Hundreds of billboards dot the Wasatch Front but some spark more of a reaction than others. The Wasatch Boulevard sign is highly visible — good for advertisers, bad for residents who say it sits right smack dab in their views of the valley.

"It's disgusting," Mount Olympus Community Council chairman Ken Smith said.

Many expected the ordinance change — which Reagan championed — to lead to removal of the sign, but so far nothing of the kind has happened.

"I feel I had a commitment from Dewey (Reagan, the sign company's president) to do his best to get that removed" if the council passed the ordinance, Councilman Russell Skousen said.

"He has told us dozens of times that the sign is coming down," said Deputy County Mayor Alan Dayton. "What's happening is just completely contrary to how he said he would deal with us."

For his part, Reagan said the fact that county officials are frustrated comes as news to him.

Reagan said he's nervous about taking the billboard down without having secured another location for it. But county officials say the whole point of the new ordinance — written in close cooperation with Reagan — was to provide for that very situation.

The "cap-and-bank" ordinance states that sign companies may take down offensive billboards and "bank" their square footage for three years while scouting other locations.

"We basically passed this because of (Reagan), and now he doesn't want to avail himself of this tool that he so adamantly fought for," Daugherty said. Officials feel like "he's stringing them along."

Dayton said if the situation doesn't change, it's possible Workman would recommend that the council go back to the other sign ordinance alternative — a total ban on new billboards.

Skousen said he'd be open to that.

"I'm not saying I would do it, but what I told the Reagan sign people all along is we have to start seeing some movement or we'll have to do something else."

In the meantime, people in the Olympus Cove area are doing what they can by pressuring and boycotting companies who advertise on the sign, and that can occasion some sacrifice: One of the sign's current advertisers is Haagen-Dazs ice cream.


E-mail: aedwards@desnews.com

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