Tampa City Council delays vote on digital billboards

10/15/09 Seán Kinane
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Tampa City Council today delayed a decision about allowing digital billboards in the city. It will hold a hearing and vote on a settlement agreement between the city and two billboard companies in three weeks. It also scheduled a December workshop on a proposed ordinance change allowing digital billboards.

Council member Linda Saul-Sena says the council should not feel rushed by the billboard companies.

Linda Saul-Sena: "The reason we have not got rid of billboards, that were supposed to be removed 10 years ago, is because the billboard industry held us up in litigation for years, and years, and years. It is not the city staff's fault; it is the billboard industry that has continued to sue, and twist, and manipulate, and refused to remove the billboards that were committed many, many, many years ago to be removed. I have been around since God made dirt. I remember all this, and it is wrong that we still have these billboards that were supposed to be removed all those years ago still staring at us. Now it is being promoted well we might take these down if we get blah, blah, blah."

Many citizens are concerned that the bright lights from the digital billboards will distract drivers or flood homes with light. Ten members of the public, including Margaret Fizzy, spoke out before public comment was cut off because of time constraints. They wanted a delay in voting on the settlement agreements or opposed the digital billboard ordinance.

Margaret Fizzy: "As far as the ordinance, it is very interesting that in the agreements unless we pass the billboard,I mean the digital board ordinance, they don't have to sign, which is very interesting. So if you do have to pass the digital billboard and they don't sign, we have got digital billboards anyway. So there is a lot of problems. There is maybe a lot of misunderstanding, maybe things that because it has such a short time since we got this information that we need to find out too."

Fizzy is a member of THAN, Tampa’s association of neighborhoods.

Another member of the public who asked Council to wait to vote on the agreements is Ron Rotella, executive director of the Westshore Alliance.

*Ron Rotella**: "I would bring the council's attention that it really should not feel compelled to be in a rush to resolve the settlement agreement today, because even if you pass it the billboard companies then have six months to execute it. So to say it is not linked to the digital ordinance is, I think, a little bit deceiving."

The settlement agreements with CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel Outdoor are a result of a lawsuit by the companies because Tampa created new rules forcing them to remove some billboards but did not allow them to be relocated.

Todd Pressman represents Clear Channel Communications and is also a board member of the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Pressman claims the settlement agreement will put both the city and the companies in a “better place.”

Todd Pressman: "This is a settlement that does reduce blight in the city. Once the settlement and the settlement portion is done, as many as 75 separate faces will come down from Clear Channel alone. It is a true and substantial reduction, but the fact is it is very easy to throw darts from the sidelines on this document. You will hear in two weeks, if you do choose to continue, hear complaints and you will hear concerns. The guys that I work with are not particularly thrilled with the settlement, but it work for them. I don't think anybody will be happy with it."

The City Council rejected settlement agreements with the two companies earlier this year because under the terms they would have been allowed to replace traditional billboards with digital ones.

Council member Mary Mulhern is concerned that the proposed agreements still allow digital billboards and she hopes that before the vote in three weeks “all references to digital media be removed from the settlement agreement, which is what we asked for months ago. … I’m not going to vote for anything that has reference to digital in the settlement agreement.”

Mary Mulhern: "All references to digital media be removed from the settlement agreement, which is what we asked for months ago and this was brought back to us. So, I am not going to vote for anything has any reference to digital in the settlement agreement."

The settlement agreements with Clear Channel and CBS has been continued to the November 3rd Council meeting. The Council will workshop the digital billboard ordinance during an afternoon meeting on December 3rd.

Also during today’s meeting, City Council took the final step needed to repeal a controversial ordinance requiring bicycle riders to have a bell.

Settlement Agreement with CBS Outdoor

Settlement agreement with Clear Channel Outdoor

Digital billboard ordinance

THAN, Tampa association of neighborhoods

Westshore Alliance

Previous WMNF coverage of bicycle bell ordinace

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