A crowd of 80-90 people packed Columbus Council chambers Tuesday night for a public hearing and first reading of an ordinance that would establish an overlay district along Manchester Expressway from Highway 80 to County Line Road.
The vast majority of them were in support of the ordinance.
The overlay district, which would ban billboards and enact guidelines for commercial development along the corridor, is intended to "effectively enhance the city's image as a desirable place to live, work and shop," according to the ordinance's language.
Thirteen supporters of the ordinance addressed council while three opponents spoke.
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Two who spoke for the ordinance and one who spoke in opposition are brothers, two of whom also spoke out at a Planning Advisory Committee meeting, at which the PAC recommended that council approve the measure.
Developer Tom Flournoy spoke first in support of the ordinance. At one point he asked fellow supporters to stand up to show their numbers, and the majority of the room rose.
"We have more than a handful of people here who show that we have great support for this," Flournoy said.
John Flournoy, who has headed up the city's Gateways highway beautification program for years, said maintaining a natural look on the major entrances to the city can be an economic development tool.
"The fact that Columbus has maintained these gateways and right of ways and we haven't seen a proliferation of billboards has had a major impact on industry coming into Columbus," Flournoy said.
Others who spoke in support said the restrictions would help protect their property values and preserve the rural, bucolic feel of Midland that its residents treasure.
Marty Flournoy, also a developer, spoke first for the opponents of the ordinance.
He said the ordinance bestows too much power in the city's Planning Department and specifically in its director, Rick Jones.
"I think something we need to be concerned about is that we put the approval of building plans and site plans in the hands of one individual in that department, and he's the arbiter of what's attractive and functional," Flournoy said. "It just doesn't make any sense."
Also speaking in opposition was Andrew Roney, who represented his employer, CBS Outdoor Advertising, which deals in billboards. He said he is not opposed to the overlay district, except for the ban on billboards.
"I think the overlay would be fantastic. CBS Outdoor is not opposed to any overlay in this town," Roney said. "We're just against the prohibition against billboards, because they're a viable medium and they serve an important purpose in this town."
Council will hold a second reading and vote on the overlay district at its July 8 meeting.