Friday, June 12, 2009

Planning Takes Care of Churches, But What are They Prepared to Do for Neighborhoods?

There a couple of things hanging with me this morning about last night's long public hearing on LED billboards in residential areas. One is that Commissioner Stewart Clifton claimed that the LED task force, selected by Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors, had a representative contingent of neighborhood leaders of diverse opinions. By my count there were 2 or 3 neighborhood leaders on the group of 20, and I do not remember any of them being vigorous opponents of LED billboards before the task force was convened. A couple seemed to come away opposed to the task force recommendation.

The rest of the group included LED-leaners like church leaders and sign industry reps., council members and lawyers, lobbyists and chamber of commerce wonks, and Codes and Planning officials predisposed against a ban of LEDs from residential neighborhoods. Needless to say there were a lot of raised eyebrows in the room at Mr. Clifton's argument. Vice Mayor Neighbors could have chosen from several LED opponents who had done their homework and delved into sign issues in ways that the Planning staff failed to. But she chose no opponents to balance the conclusions.

Secondly, Mr. Clifton mentioned that a primary interest behind the favorable conclusions the LED task force gave to commercial-style diode signage in residential areas was that it desired to do something to help churches and agencies, since they are part of neighborhoods, too. But wait a minute. No one opposing LED signage wants to curtail privileges that private organizations get from locating in neighborhoods. Just being in a residential area gives these institutions some stability and security that they might not enjoy being in commercial zones.

So, what does the preferential option for LEDs have to do with treating churches like an equal neighbors? As one opponent said during the public hearing, churches seem to want it both ways: the desirability of a residential locale and the marketing blitz of commercial zones. What favor has the LED task force and Metro Planning extended to neighborhood groups (which would not even be able to erect LED signage to promote themselves under the new law)? And what benefits do churches and non-profits actually bring neighborhoods? We no longer live in a parish-system era where churches have mutually beneficial hyper-local relationships. Churches are generally a reflection of automobile culture, and their clientele drives in from outside their neighborhoods. How are they anything other than fillers of space vis-à-vis neighborhoods?

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