Discussion continued on whether to put billboards in the city or not and which government body will oversee potential approval.

The Milford City Council spent nearly an hour on Monday night arguing over how strict the law has to be to control new billboards in town.

They’ll pick it up again in a few weeks.

“I made a motion, and then everybody talked for 15 minutes and said nothing,” council member Owen Brooks said.

Every member of council who spoke said they wanted to discourage businesses from putting up new billboards in town. But it took 45 minutes of debate and two 3-4 split votes before they reached even a decision on whether the best way to do that would be to write a law banning new billboards, or if a bill that allows new billboards, but only with special approval from the council, would do the job.

Mayor Ronnie Rogers said a rule that allows new construction in commercial land and with council approval would be as good as a ban.

“It’s only in C-3 (the highway commercial zone) … I don’t see where you could put one in Milford,” he said. “There’s not going to be a flood of billboards.”

But after the council voted 4-3 to send the law back for a rewrite that will flatly ban new billboards, he railed against the move.

“Council’s decision is wasting money by sending it through the process again,” he said. “This should have been done. This should be over.”

Steve Johnson, Jason Adkins, Owen Brooks and Katrina Wilson voted for a complete ban, while Doug Morrow, Skip Pikus and Garrett Grier opted for one that allows new construction with limits. James Starling declined to vote at all, saying he was “confused” by the back-and-forth.

Brooks pushed hardest for a ban, but he nearly gave up altogether a half-hour into the discussion. He withdrew his motion for a full ban after a round of unproductive discussion, but he got what he wanted after all. The limited-construction law failed by one vote, and then a rewrite passed by the same margin.

Morrow argued that since a majority vote in the five-person Board of Adjustment can allow an exception to even a total ban, it was better to keep the decision in council hands.

“I’d rather have this decision in the hands of eight council members instead of three people on the board of adjustment,” Morrow said.

The board of adjustment has that power today, but it’s never happened since the ban went up. Standards for an exception are so high that, former mayor Dan Marabello said, former City Manager Richard Carmean called it “a waste of $1,000” to pay the application fee.

Exactly what restrictions would be placed on new signs has changed over the last six weeks.

When the law came up for a public hearing in August, the Milford Planning Commission handed the council a set of rules that capped billboards at 400 square-feet per sign, and said they had to be no less than 1,500 feet apart. At Pikus’ request, the council scrapped those rules and replaced them with a copy of the state’s regulations, which allow up to 1,200-square-foot signs, 500 feet apart.

Public comment weighed heavily toward an outright ban, with speakers pointing to their appearance, light pollution and their effect on property values as reasons to lock them out completely.

“Billboards are out of place … they’re pollution,” Marabello said. “You have to remember — good design is forever. Bad design is forever, too.”

It’s only an issue because last year, Milford lost a lawsuit against Country Life Homes when a judge ruled that the city’s ban on new billboards was illegal because the law didn’t actually define “billboard.” Without a definition, it’s impossible for someone who puts up a sign to know if the city would consider it a billboard or not.

So the town’s planning commission went to the drawing board and put together a law that defined the term., adding rules for approving billboards in case the council wanted to go that way, chairman Chuck Rini said.

That law reads that a billboard is “a sign directing attention to a business, commodity, service or entertainment conducted, sold or offered elsewhere than upon the premises where the sign is maintained.”

“This was necessary as a result of that court case,” City Solicitor Tim Willard said.