Jacksonville Billboard

The Jacksonville City Council voted Monday to put a moratorium on billboards within the city limits. 

JACKSONVILLE — City leaders voted on Monday to temporarily restrict the erection of billboards in Jacksonville.

Officials say they need the 180-day moratorium to write rules for digital billboards in the city. Until rules are approved, such technology is forbidden in city limits, officials say.

The Jacksonville City Council approved the moratorium during its regular Monday meeting.

Mark Stephens, city planning and development coordinator, said the city has an application for a digital billboard but can’t act on it because there are no zoning regulations.

“We’ve been in the process for several months of redoing city zoning regulations and we found some issues with the billboard section that needs to be addressed,” Stephens said. “So in the meantime, we are requesting this moratorium.”

Stephens said he expects the zoning changes would be ready for council approval in around four months.

“We are not doing anything to existing billboards,” Stephens said. “This is just for new billboards.”

Currently, city zoning law permits digital business signs, digital public message signs and digital bulletin board signs. While those types of signs, digital or traditional, are similar to billboards, there is a distinct difference under city zoning, said Mark Williams, city building inspector.

“If you advertise something on a sign on property where that product or service isn’t offered, then that is a billboard,” Williams said. “A sign like the one at Walgreens, that is not a digital billboard, that is a digital sign.”

Williams noted that the city does have one digital billboard on Alabama 21, but it was grandfathered in several years ago when the city annexed that property.

Also during the meeting, the council agreed to appropriate about $4,400 out of next year’s budget to help start a firefighter training program at Jacksonville High School. The money would be enough to hire an instructor to teach two students for the pilot program.

Caroline Godbey, Jacksonville High career tech director, who would oversee the program, said at the meeting that her department had the money to buy firefighter equipment for the students. The pilot program is set to start in the fall.

The program would be similar to ones started in Anniston and Piedmont in recent years, which provide enough training for students to start as beginner firefighters at their local fire departments.

“Our hope is they make a career and stay in the community,” Godbey said.

During the meeting, the council also had a first reading of a proposed ordinance to fight crime in the same way the city handles eyesores such as overgrown grass and derelict trucks in front yards. Specifically, the ordinance would let the city declare properties public nuisances if they’re sites of persistent criminal activity.

The council is set to have a second reading and vote on the ordinance at its next meeting.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.