Tampa tables billboard ordinance again

02/05/09 Mitch E. Perry
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The Tampa City Council today delayed for two weeks a possible billboard agreement with two major billboard companies about a new ordinance.

Negotiations between the city and CBS Outdoors and Clear Channel have been ongoing for years, and city attorneys hoped that an agreement could finally be signed today.

The proposal would allow the continued removal of dozens of traditional billboards from certain sectors of the city, but in exchange, would allow those companies to erect digital billboards in areas where billboards are not prohibited.

But members of the public and some Councilmembers said they had issues with the digital billboard component.

Wofford Johnson is the president of THAN, an umbrella group for all neighborhood associations in Tampa. He said the agreement on the table was between two sets of lawyers.

An aspect of the agreement that seemingly has everyone's approval is that the signs would have to be at least 500 feet from residential properties, and four traditional signs would have to come down for one electronic sign to go up.

Julia Cole is with the Legal Department for the city. She gave the Council a history of the legal activity with billboards over the past 20 years, and the variances carved out of ordinances.

Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena said there was research being conducted right now on how safe it is to have digital billboards on the roads, and she cautioned the city from going forward with an agreement that they might want to alter in the future.

Councilman John Dingfelder said he didn’t think it was fair that in the agreement certain sectors of the city - like South Tampa - would be devoid of electronic billboards, but others - like Seminole Heights – would not.

The agreement would require a setback of 300 feet between standard billboards and residential areas, and 500 feet for electronic billboards.

Dingfelder said there were problems with that. He asked inquired if the city could avoid, for the time being, doing anything with electronic billboards.

City Attorney Chip Fletcher said, there was no legal obligation to address the issue.

City staff and Councilmembers agreed that electronic billboards aren’t going away, but also acknowledged that they remain problematic.

The Council postponed a decision for two weeks.

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