Proposed change to billboard legislation worries beautification groups in northwest Houston

October 11, 2017

A proposed rule change by the Texas Department of Transportation added to a sunset bill that could allow some billboards to be as high as 85 feet is alarming organizations that are working to clean up areas of northwest Houston.

Organizations such as the Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce and Scenic Houston are against the proposed rule. Currently, billboards can be a maximum of 42.5 feet tall.

The rule, added by state Rep. John Wray, R-Waxahachie, would allow billboards to be as high as 85 feet tall if they were built before March 1, 2017. The rule could affect the unincorporated parts of northwest Harris County that are outside of the Houston city limits. The Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce is one organization that has been working to beautify the area by working to get rid billboards.

“I don’t know anybody that has any affection for the billboards out here,” said Barbara Thomason, president of the Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce.

While one of the chamber’s objectives is to remove billboards, it is not a priority as the area seeks to rebuild after Hurricane Harvey’s floodwaters swamped many homes and businesses throughout the region.

“We may be able to work with Scenic Texas to negotiate some of these away, but that’s a huge task the chamber’s not up to with everything else going on,” Thomason said.

Anne Culver, president of Scenic Houston, said the proposed rule was included hastily.

“It was tacked on at the 11th hour,” she said.

The proposed rule being added at the last minute is typical of the Texas Legislature, said James Thurmond, director of the master of public administration program at the University of Houston.

“The conference committee will bargain and compromise,” he said. “It is notorious for being pushed in the last days.”

The lack of clarification on how the rule could affect billboard heights is what environmental and beautification groups along with business community organizations are opposing, Thurmond said.

Culver said the billboards make a bad first impression to visitors and are a black eye to Houston. If the rule passes, Culver said she is not sure what will happen, especially in northwest Harris County, where the population has grown and the area has become more cluttered by billboards.

“There needs to be a well, clearly written sign code,” she said. “There’s a sense of desire for a sense of unity and scenic pride.”

The public can still comment on the proposed rule by sending concerns or notes to rulecomments@txdot.gov. The deadline for public comments is 5 p.m. on Monday.