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Scenic St. Petersburg

An Affiliate of Scenic Florida

Tampa has the SAME problem

Council postpones vote on billboard deal

By CHRISTIAN M. WADE cwade@tampatrib.com The Tampa Tribune Published: October 16, 2009

TAMPA - The city council on Thursday postponed a vote on a proposed settlement with two outdoor advertising companies over the number of billboards they can put up. The proposal is aimed at resolving a lengthy dispute between Tampa and CBS Outdoors and Clear Channel Outdoors. Among the provisions, companies would be required to remove dozens of billboards from so-called "scenic corridors" throughout the city. In exchange, the companies could replace them with digital billboards in other areas, as long as they adhere to proposed rules on the signs' height, brightness and placement. Representatives of neighborhood groups asked the council to postpone voting on the settlement, saying they hadn't had enough time to review the proposal. "Neighborhood groups have not had an opportunity to weigh in on this," said Wofford Johnson, president of Tampa Homeowners, an association of neighborhoods that represents dozens of city homeowners associations. "We have a lot of concerns." The council set a vote for its Nov. 5 meeting. "What's before us today is obviously not satisfactory to our community," Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena said. The proposed settlement contains a clause that both companies would have several months to approve the agreement and that they could reject it depending on the outcome of proposed changes to the city's sign code to regulate digital billboards. That angered several residents, who spoke against the proposal. "This feels like blackmail," said Susan Long, of Tampa. "These companies are saying that they won't approve the settlement unless we let them have their digital signs." Todd Pressman, a lobbyist representing Clear Channel Outdoors, said the settlement would vastly improve Tampa's visual landscape by reducing the number of billboards. "It's a true and substantial reduction," he told council members. 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 digital signs, among other provisions. But 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 instructed legal staff to separate the digital billboard provision from the traditional billboard agreement. On Thursday, council members were presented with a proposed ordinance that would change the city's sign code to limit the number of digital billboards to about 40 citywide, impose restrictions on their brightness and placement, and prohibit them in historic districts. Council members agreed to hold a workshop Dec. 3 to discuss the ordinance. Combined, CBS and Clear Channel have about 1,300 billboards in the city. Reporter Christian M. Wade can be reached at (813) 259-7679