Late 1990's – Present

Green Ribbon Plantings

Scenic Houston was instrumental in securing the adoption of Texas legislation that requires a portion of a highway construction project’s budget be spent on landscaping. Because this legislation only applies to new projects, Scenic Houston also successfully pushed for federal funds to landscape Houston’s already-completed highways. Combined, these plantings have produced 820 acres of “green ribbon corridors” throughout the Houston area. On these acres, TxDOT has now planted more than one million trees. Prior to the 1999 initiation of the program, TxDOT’s total Houston-area tree plantings numbered 18,868, an increase of 5,299%!

The Green Ribbon Program is funded through biannual state appropriations. Scenic Houston and Scenic Texas work each legislative session to ensure that funding is maintained.


Without the efforts of Scenic Houston, Houston City Council would have approved a settlement agreement in December 2007 to allow 466 billboards to be relocated twice over a 20 year period to new sites all over our City, including major thoroughfares which are now billboard-free thanks to redevelopment since the City’s no-new-billboards ordinance was adopted in 1980. When Scenic Houston and many citizen stakeholders voiced objections to the settlement terms, Scenic Houston was invited to serve as a resource to the Mayor as his team re-worked the agreement. Scenic Houston representatives suggested the method of economic analysis that served as the basis for the negotiations and participated in the negotiating process along with City personnel. As a result, in April 2008, the City of Houston and Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc. signed a compromise and settlement agreement intended to resolve disputes and controversies, and to avoid any future litigation, over the Houston Sign Code and its application to Clear Channel’s inventory in Houston and its extra-territorial jurisdiction. More than 800 billboards have been removed as a result of the settlement and none is being relocated.


With policy analysis and research data developed by Scenic Houston as a basis, in 2008, Houston City Council adopted an ordinance to prohibit the commercial use of “attention-getting devices,” or AGDs. These include the giant, cartoonish, inflatables seen atop businesses, as well as streamers, pennants, flags, wind devices and the like. Eliminating AGDs cleans up very real visual blight along our freeways and major thoroughfares, reduces dangerous driver distraction, eliminates safety hazards along the right-of-way, enables a clearer and more effective view of a business’s permanent signage and saves the business owner the expense of purchasing the AGDs. And, in our unzoned City where residential areas are not separated from retail and commercial centers, this cleanup had a very real and immediate impact on our neighborhoods.


In 2008, Houston City Council voted with no opposition to reconfirm and restate a total ban on off-premises billboards. This action reaffirmed and further strengthened the existing 1980 ban by explicitly stating that converting any existing billboard to digital would violate the city’s no-new-billboards law. Scenic Houston was responsible for encouraging the Council to reaffirm the law. Our successful efforts to create awareness about the blight caused by billboards were evidenced by how easily this ordinance was adopted.


Thanks to Scenic Houston’s role as a member of a 2009 Mayor’s On-Premises Sign Task Force, today’s Houston Sign Code now provides for fewer, smaller and less intrusive on-premises signage throughout the city. Task Force recommendations that were adopted by City Council included size and height reductions for signs along major thoroughfares and freeways; creation of a new most-restrictive category of signs for residential areas; restrictions on wall, projecting and roof signs; a new requirement that window signs have a permit; and limitations on the number, size and brightness of electronic changeable message signs.  All these changes strengthened the existing sign code, which had not been revised since 1992.


Because the City of Houston was unable to negotiate the removal of dozens of “past their due date” amortized billboards, the City asked Scenic Houston to assist in updating and modernizing the city’s billboard database and advise on the City’s strategy. Scenic Houston’s advice and counsel served as the basis for three separate agreements between the City and major billboard companies to permanently remove 66 billboards across the City over a 30-month period.


An unexpected 2016 court ruling gutting the Texas Highway Beautification Act could have resulted in a loss of $350 million in federal highway funding and a loss of TxDOT’s ability to regulate billboards if Scenic Houston had not weighed in.  In 2016, Scenic Houston organized amicus legal briefs filed with the Austin Third Court of Appeals seeking a judicial cure and in 2017 crafted legislation seeking a statutory cure to the issue, which had to do with balancing first amendment free speech issues with the ability to issue billboard permits.  The bill was passed by the Texas Legislature in May and signed by Governor Abbott in June 2017.  The Texas Highway Beautification Act was reinstated as a pillar that supports the visual character of Texas roadways and urban entryway corridors.