The Indian Creek Nature Center’s stand against highway billboards cost it $200,000, but it isn’t going to prevent a new 50-foot-tall digital billboard from going up anyway right next to a tract of the center’s land along Highway 100 east of First Avenue East.
Now, the Slumberland Furniture store, not the Indian Creek Nature Center, will benefit from the one-time, six-figure lease fee that comes to a property owner for allowing a billboard to be erected along busy Highway 100.
Steve Allsop, owner of MediaQuest Outdoor, acknowledged this week that he had been prepared to pay the Nature Center $200,000 for permission to erect the billboard on a parcel of land next to the Slumberland store site that a benefactor donated to the Nature Center.
However, the Nature Center’s board of directors in November decided it would not allow a billboard on the donated parcel even as the center is preparing to sell six to eight acres of the 35-acre donation for commercial development. The sale’s proceeds then will be used to support the non-profit organization’s center and work.
In October, the Nature Center won City Council approval to rezone part of the donated land to allow for the future commercial development, a rezoning that also cleared the way for a billboard to be erected on the land. Subsequently, though, the Nature Center’s board decided against the billboard.
“We never knew the absolute hatred that some people have for billboards, particularly the electronic ones,” Rich Patterson, the Nature Center’s director, said in November in explaining the board’s decision.
On Wednesday, Patterson said he suspected his board of directors would have been much more likely to have approved a billboard on its property along Highway 100 if it had known that the billboard was going to go up next door on the Slumberland property. The board was led to believe that the city wouldn’t allow a billboard at Slumberland because of the property’s closeness to other signs, Patterson said.
Without access to the Nature Center’s property, billboard company owner Allsop turned his attention to the Slumberland property next door.
On Monday, Allsop successfully argued in front of the city’s Board of Adjustment for a special variance to erect the new billboard on Slumberland property. The spot for the billboard at Slumberland is not 1,000 feet away from another off-premise sign as dictated by city ordinance. However, city officials agreed with Allsop that two signs within 1,000 feet — one for Marketplace on 1st and one for Quality Inn — really serve as on-premise signs because the businesses promoted by both signs are adjacent to the signs. Allsop’s sign will be an “off-premise” billboard that advertises businesses and other entities not located on the property or immediately next to it.
“I feel bad for them,” Allsop said this week of the Nature Center and its decision to keep his billboard off its property.
Patterson said the end result is the lease fee that Allsop will pay to Slumberland is money that will go to an out-of-state, for-profit company, not the local non-profit Nature Center.
“People would concede that if we were a tavern or a cafe or some store and somebody came along and offered us $200,000 to put a billboard up, that’s what a for-profit would do,” Patterson said. “But no, no, no. Not a non-profit. Nature centers don’t do that. At the same time, they expect us to pay our bills. And here we are. The for-profit, out-of-town, big company gets the money.”