Council to weigh digital billboards
October 12, 2009
Digital billboards could soon be coming to Tampa.
A proposed ordinance, to be presented to the city council on Thursday, would allow outdoor advertising companies to install electronic displays across the city, including sections of busy thoroughfares such as Dale Mabry Highway and Gandy Boulevard.
If approved, rules would limit the number of digital billboards to 40 citywide, impose restrictions on their brightness and ban them in historic districts.
Community leaders and activists are expected to meet with the city's legal department before Thursday's council meeting to discuss the proposed rules.
Some have called the move a "giveaway" to billboard ad companies.
"We don't want them here in Tampa," said Bill Jonson, president of Citizens for a Scenic Florida, a nonprofit group that opposes billboards. "They're a blight on the community."
Wofford Johnson, president of Tampa Homeowners An Association of Neighborhoods, which represents dozens of city homeowners associations, said he was still reviewing the proposed ordinance. He said the group is very concerned about keeping digital billboards out of residential neighborhoods.
The city, CBS and Clear Channel would not discuss the ordinance.
Council Chairman Tom Scott said he thinks the introduction of digital billboards to Tampa's landscape is inevitable but wants safeguards for residential neighborhoods. "These things are here to stay, whether we like it or not," he said. "It's a matter of having adequate protections on the books for our historic districts and residential areas."
The proposal is aimed at resolving a lengthy dispute between Tampa and CBS Outdoors and Clear Channel Outdoors over the number of billboards they can put up in the city. In 1996, the city signed an agreement with the ad companies that, among other provisions, required them to remove signs from so-called "scenic corridors" in the city. The companies said the agreement deprived them of the ability to relocate signs to other areas of the city. In 2004, they filed lawsuits challenging the restrictions.
After years of court hearings and closed-door negotiations with city officials, CBS and Clear Channel agreed to a proposed settlement last year that would have allowed both companies to replace traditional billboards with the digital displays by a 4 to 1 ratio.
Neighborhood groups complained the deal would mean a proliferation of digital billboards, ruining the city's visual landscape and creating public safety issues. When the council rejected the settlement, Mayor Pam Iorio separated the digital billboard provision from the traditional billboards agreement.
The Iorio administration will ask council members Thursday to approve a new proposal, which would require CBS and Clear Channel to take down a number of traditional billboards from scenic corridors. In exchange, they will be allowed to replace them with non-electronic billboards in other areas, provided they adhere to height, size and other zoning requirements.
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