Reno’s new proposed billboard ordinance, reflecting changes to enforce a billboard ban voted for 17 years ago, will make its debut during the Reno Planning Commission’s regular meeting Wednesday at city hall. Scenic Nevada is in favor of the draft and is urging planning commissioners to recommend approval to the Reno City Council, which has the final say.

What: Reno City Planning Commission Meeting, Item 6.2
Where: City Hall, 1 East First Street, Reno
When: Starting at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 2

Click here to read the staff report and proposed ordinance. If you can’t make the evening session, email your comments to RenoPlanningCommission@reno.gov.

No new billboards in Reno’s Future. The scenic view from Interstate I-580 in Reno.

Wednesday’s meeting marks the first public preview of the draft which finally will enforce the 2000 vote of the people to ban new billboards and new permits, if approved. The proposal represents the grand finale of 17 years of volunteer work by Scenic Nevada to rid Reno of the clutter and blight caused by too many billboards.

Twists and Turns

Scenic Nevada authored the ballot initiative approved by 57% of the voters in 2000 which simply says:

“The construction of new off-premises advertising displays/billboards is prohibited, and the City of Reno may not issue permits for their construction.”
But, previous city council members interpreted the voter approved ban as a cap and immediately allowed new permits and new billboard construction. As long as the city didn’t exceed the capped number, new billboards, called “relocations,” were allowed.

After the previous council and planning commission passed regulations approving digital billboards in 2012, we sued and lost. But on appeal a unanimous Nevada Supreme Court in June 2016 said the city had unconstitutionally amended the people’s billboard ban when it approved the ordinances (allowing new billboards) within three years of the people’s vote back in 2002. In the same ruling the court said those ordinances were reenacted when the city passed the digital billboard regulations, adopted long after the three-year time limit on changes.

That left a 10-year gap, between 2002 and 2012, which the court called a period of “interim invalidity.” Further complicating the issue, the city issued receipts over the years to sign owners when a billboard was demolished for use when a new location was found. Today, there is a backlog of about 82 unused permits in what’s referred to as the “billboard bank.”

We think 62 of the banked permits issued between 2002 and 2012 are invalid and should be voided. Recently, we sued the city a second time to get the definitive answer. Our lawsuit is pending. Both the city attorney’s office and the city council agreed the court should decide whether these contested permits are valid.

Honoring the Vote

The council gave city staff direction on June 14 to rewrite the ordinance and bring it to the planning commission for its review. Reno planning staff will present the draft Wednesday that, if approved, honors the people’s vote and the city council’s request to enforce it.

Under the draft, digital billboards would be prohibited, the billboard bank would be closed to new deposits and only the remaining valid banked receipts could become new billboards in the future. Once these 82 permits are used, expire or are voided, the bank should be closed for good.

The draft text makes it perfectly clear that all new billboards are banned: “…the city shall not issue any permits authorizing the construction of any new, permanent off-premises advertising displays.”

The draft also reverts billboards to nonconforming status, meaning they cannot be replaced under any circumstances. But it allows for proper maintenance and repairs of up to 50% of the value in case of damage. More than that and the billboard can’t be rebuilt, which hasn’t been the case since 2002, when the billboard industry won approval to build new billboards damaged in natural disasters.

In short, the draft strips regulations allowing new billboard construction, both standard and digital, except for some banked receipts, which is what the city council has asked for on behalf of the 32,700 people who voted for the ballot initiative.

Come to the meeting Wednesday to encourage the planning commission or send an email to RenoPlanningCommission@reno.gov