PHOENIX — Maricopa County officials have created new rules for billboards that will let them double in size and height and for existing static billboards to be converted to ever-changing electronic displays.
The Arizona Republic reports that scientists and residents have complained the new rules will brighten the Phoenix metro area’s dark skies.
Digital billboards are allowed in many cities in the Phoenix area, but weren’t previously allowed in the county.
It’s difficult to know exactly how this will change the landscape of billboards across Maricopa County.
The rules apply only to unincorporated county land, and much of the land along freeways and highways is within city limits, such as the land alongside State Route 51, which is in Phoenix. The digital billboards could come to county islands along with the area just outside cities and towns, such as in Anthem.
The initial request for changes came three years ago from a billboard company, Becker Boards, and the company has been working since to try to appease opposition groups by adding stricter rules on where and when the digital billboards are allowed.
The rules approved on Nov. 17 will only allow the billboards along existing freeways within 3 miles of a city or town, for example, and will not allow them within scenic corridors, such as along the Carefree Highway or certain mountain preserves. The billboards must be dimmed at sunset and turned off completely by 11 p.m. through sunrise. They also must have technology meant to keep light from traveling upward.
A consortium of astronomers in the state, the Phoenix-area chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association, and many residents still said they opposed the changes. Cities jumped on to oppose the proposal late, too.
Scientists from the Arizona Astronomers Consortium wrote to the county in September warning of the detrimental impacts more digital billboards would have on scientific research and investment in the state.
Rolf Jansen, a member of the consortium and professor at Arizona State University, told The Republic the horizontal glow from the billboards would affect observatories hundreds of miles away.
Luke Edens of the Phoenix-area chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association told officials that their decision will affect the entire region, even if the billboards are allowed only near cities, because of what’s known as “sky glow,” or a general increase to the brightness of the sky.
Bill Lally, the attorney representing Becker Boards, told county officials that the rules will force billboard companies to tilt lights downward and have protective technology that lessens light pollution. The new rules will require even static billboards, some of which have lights pointing upward, to change to only have lights pointing downward.
Before the changes, the county allowed billboards up to 300 square feet (28 square meters) and 30 feet (9 meters) tall. The rule change allows for billboards up to 672 square feet and 70 feet tall.