Tagged: VT

Yes, we have no billboards – Rutland Herald Article

Posted on March 13, 2012 by - Environment, Montpelier-Barre Times Argus, Rutland Herald

Billboards were commonly seen in Vermont before the 1968 law that prohibited new billboards and gave owners of existing billboards five years to take them down. The law's passage was a very significant milestone in the evolution of Vermont’s environmental legislation. Source: Vermont State Archives and Records Administration.

Yes, we have no billboards

Nathaniel Gibson

Editor’s note: This article is the first in a two-part series examining the history of outdoor advertising regulations in Vermont and how they are applied today.

Vermonters highly value their farm and forested landscape, and many organizations are working to conserve it for future generations. Such efforts have a long history in the state. Vermont’s billboard ban – one of the state’s signature environmental accomplishments – was made law in 1968. But the story goes back at least to the 1930s.

It’s difficult to imagine the pastoral Vermont landscape dotted with billboards. Cross over the state border, though, and the reality of off-premise advertising signs becomes immediately apparent. Only three other states – Maine, Alaska and Hawaii – have similar measures in place.

Vermont was the first state to ban billboards. The process began in the 1930s as local citizens, committees and garden groups concerned with preserving the natural beauty and character of the landscape started to confront the increasingly powerful national billboard lobby.

As early as 1929, Vermont-born writer Vrest Orton had described national advertisers as having “an urge to plaster all the roads retaining the least vestige of adjacent beauty, with massive, gaudy and hideous sign-boards, so that it might truly be said, ‘Behind the signboard lies Vermont.’ All these things are basically un-Vermonterish.”

In 1937, seven billboards were put up in Springfield. A citizen’s committee promptly contacted the advertisers and argued that the signs were detrimental to local business. Shortly after this event, opponents of outdoor advertising formed the Vermont Association for Billboard Restriction. The group’s purpose was to lobby the state Legislature for further billboard restrictions and help coordinate the activities of local groups.

That first citizens’ committee that had formed in Springfield proved to be one of VABR’s most effective groups. It created an unfriendly climate toward national advertisers by using a combination of strongly worded letters, handbills, boycotts and petitions. The goal was to keep both local and national business from renting space from billboard owners and force them to move elsewhere.

The committee’s logic proved sound. Within 18 months all of the billboards in Springfield had been removed, a development that underscored the clout of VABR and emboldened similar groups in other areas.

The growing movement against outdoor advertising received another boost in 1943 when the Vermont Supreme Court issued a ruling stating that property owners did not have any intrinsic rights to advertise on billboards adjacent to public roads. This ruling gave the state government and municipalities the authority to ban billboards. Most towns were quite happy to keep billboards off their roadsides.

During the following decade the anti-billboard momentum continued to develop. In 1957, the state Legislature passed a law that eliminated billboards and other advertisements along limited-access roads.

The billboard debate heated up in 1960 as local merchants came to depend on billboards to lure motorists off highways and interstates and into their stores. But an attempt in 1960 to repeal the 1957 ban on billboards along limited-access roads was unsuccessful. The issue continued to be significant throughout the 1960s, especially at the local level.

In 1967, freshman Republican Rep. Ted Riehle of South Burlington introduced a bill to eliminate billboards from interstates and restrict advertising on other byways to small, licensed signs with directions to local businesses or other attractions and on-premise signage.

“The state was getting fairly well-covered with large billboards along major roads, and this initiative was seen as a way to make Vermont distinctive and unique from other states which had lots of billboards, while preserving Vermont’s own natural beauty,” says Tom Slayton, editor emeritus of Vermont Life Magazine.

Billboards in Bridgewater in 1960. All billboards have been banned in Vermont since 1968. Source: Vermont State Archives and Records Administration.

Despite a pitched legislative fight, much time and money spent by the national outdoor advertising lobby and resistance from property-rights advocates, Riehle – with the support of Democrat Gov. Phil Hoff, environmentally-minded constituents and the press – was able to get the bill passed in 1968. The law prohibited new billboards and gave owners of existing billboards five years to take them down. Even though Hoff came out in favor of the bill, Democrats in the Legislature did not share his enthusiasm for environmental protection laws and offered no support.

The law’s passage has proven to be a very significant milestone – not just in the regulation of roadside advertising but also in the evolution of Vermont’s environmental legislation. “By limiting outdoor advertising, it was the first law of its type in that it attempted to regulate business for the benefit of the landscape and the traveling public,” observes Slayton.

The debate surrounding the billboards law served as a preview of coming struggles over the environment as the promotion of tourism, economic growth and development have continued to intrude upon the state’s landscape. Even though the issue was originally cast as one of property rights and beautification, it marked the beginning of Vermont’s environmental laws such as Act 250 and the environmental movement in the state. Efforts to conserve the Vermont landscape for future generations have persisted over the intervening decades. The Vermont Working Landscape Partnership Program, a broad-based partnership, continues this work today.

Regulations governing outdoor advertising have continued to evolve since the 1960s. Developments in transportation and other technologies have raised new questions about the scope and jurisdiction of the law. Part two of this series will explore some of these topics.

Nathaniel Gibson is a freelance writer who lives in Pawlet. He can be contacted via www.nathanielrgibson.com.

The article originally appeared in the Rutland Herald and the Times Argus:
March 11, 2012

A Bunch of 250th Birthday Parties for Vermont Towns and Cities – Rutland Regional Guide

Posted on December 22, 2011 by - Rutland Regional Guide, Vermont Towns

A bunch of 250th birthday parties for Vermont towns and cities

By Nathaniel Gibson

The town of Pawlet celebrated its 250th anniversary of charter in style as shown by Adelle Seamens (left) and Sarah Post (right), with art by Roy Egg, all from West Pawlet. Photo Credit: Rhonda Schlangen.

Above a certain age, many people stop keeping track of their birthdays. But when a bunch of Vermont towns reached the ripe age of 250 this year, they celebrated in style.

The big 250th can also be called the sestercentennial or the easier-to-remember quarter-millennial — meaning that these towns were originally chartered a quarter of a millennium ago. And they marked their long and rich heritages with a plethora of events — parades, fireworks, quilt shows, art exhibits, live music, dancing, wagon rides, historical exhibits, and more.

These 63 towns, about a quarter of the state’s total, predate not only the founding of the United States, but the state of Vermont itself. They were originally chartered in 1761 by New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth as he attempted to exert control over the territory between New Hampshire and the Province of New York.

Although the grants were eventually invalidated by King George III, who ruled that the Connecticut River was the boundary between New York and New Hampshire, unhappy colonists declared the territory to be free and independent. Vermont was subsequently founded on January 15, 1777.

The town of Woodstock’s 250th birthday bash was a picnic at the Billings Farm & Museum on July 10 — with horse and wagon rides, games, presentations on the history of the town, free ice cream, and live music by the Old Sam Peabody Band. “It was a great community celebration of 250 years, and we had the perfect location in the Billings Farm and Museum,” says Elizabeth Finlayson, Director of the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce.

On the other side of the state the southern Vermont town of Manchester marked its 250th on August 12 and 13. Entertainment included wagon rides, tours of Dellwood Cemetery, a stock car show, a hoedown and barbecue, a carnival and a concert by the U.S. Navy Band followed by fireworks.

“The opening ceremony at the Bennington County Courthouse in the village with Governor Shumlin was very well received, and all the other events also went off well,” reports town clerk Linda Spence, who helped organize the festivities.

“Everyone who participated enjoyed themselves, and it was great to see families represented across multiple generations.”

Rep. John Malcolm reads the Legislature's resolution announcing the celebration of Pawlet's 250th anniversary of charter to a crowd assembled in front of the Town Hall. Photo Credit: Susan LaPorte.

A few miles north of Manchester on Route 30 the town of Pawlet celebrated its 250th anniversary during the memorable weekend of August 26 to 28. Festivities included live music, dancing, a quilt show, many displays and exhibits, ghost walks and a parade. The celebration culminated with fireworks that ended just as tropical storm Irene showed up.

“I hope having that memorable day to look back on has been able to bring a smile to the folks in our town who suffered from the damage and destruction of tropical storm Irene the next day,” remarked event organizer Judy Coolidge. “To see the number of people who came home to Pawlet to be part of this celebration and to hear the wonderful stories of what a fabulous time they had has been so rewarding.”

Benning Wentworth continued making land grants in the present State of Vermont until 1764. Next year the towns of Averrill, Bloomfield, Bristol, Charlotte, Ferrisburgh, Hinesburg, Lemington, Lewis, and Monkton will celebrate their 250th anniversaries, with even more to come in 2013.

Nathaniel Gibson is a freelance writer who lives in Pawlet and may be contacted at www.nathanielrgibson.com.

The article originally appeared in the Fall 2011 edition of the Rutland Regional Vermont Insider Guide.