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A longstanding rule may soon vanish that has required companies seeking to build new highway billboards to obtain permission first from residents living within 100 feet of the proposed sign.

Utah Department of Transportation officials say they are not sure if its actual practice ever gave residents such veto power over new nearby signs. But as it worked on an overhaul of billboard regulations, it found the rule and discovered that the Legislature never gave authority for it.

"We were not successful in finding anything in state statute that enables us to have that provision," Rod McDaniels, UDOT program manager of outdoor advertising, explained during a public hearing Wednesday about that and other proposed billboard rule changes.

"Administrative rule cannot be more restrictive than state statute," he said. Since "we have a rule that has direct conflicts with state law and federal regulations," UDOT is proposing to drop that old requirement for neighbor permission.

No one protested the change at the public hearing on Wednesday, although a few asked questions seeking to clarify it.

Ty Markham, a city council member from Torrey, asked how residents could help create a requirement to obtain permission of residents near new signs.

McDaniels said one option is asking the Legislature to allow it. Also, he said signs must comply with city and county ordinances — so those local governments could impose such restrictions for permission.

In fact, he said some local governments in the state have banned all new road billboards in their boundaries.

Lynn Pace, representing the Utah League of Cities and Towns and Salt Lake City, asked if UDOT could at least tweak the proposed change so that it would require notification — if not permission — of nearby neighbors to allow them to weigh in during the permitting process.

McDaniels said that is something UDOT could consider before adopting final rules. UDOT is scheduled to allow comments on the rules change through at least the end of August.

The proposed rule overhaul also seeks to modernize some old practices.

For example, the state had issued small metal plates that had to be attached to every sign to show who owned them — but many disappeared or were covered by vegetation. So rule changes would codify UDOT's more recent practice of using GPS coordinates to track billboards, and post online maps and lists instead to reveal owners and permit information.