Pasco County:  Ending two years of debate, Pasco okays digital billboard swap

Pasco County: Ending two years of debate, Pasco okays digital billboard swap

Photo: Tampa Bay Times

“…After nearly two years of public workshops and negotiations with billboard companies, commissioners voted unanimously to allow the firms to take down static billboards and replace them with high-tech digital light-emitting diode billboards that can rotate messages.

Under the ordinance, the number of new digital signs will be capped at 37. And for each one installed, the billboard companies must remove the equivalent of six existing signs, based on square footage.

‘I think less is better for the county and the community, but still give people the opportunity to advertise,” said commission Chairman Mike Moore.

The 6-to-1 swap was greater than what industry representatives said they could accept in November. But it also was a reduction from the 10-to-1 ratio the county proposed two months ago. The messages on the signs can be rotated every 15 seconds, about half the frequency the billboard sign companies originally wanted.

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, who, as a citizen activist, was instrumental in the county banning new billboards nearly 18 years ago, acknowledged she was nervous about amending the ordinance, and was skeptical about the industry’s motives.

‘I’m worried they’re going to take down all the little ones and keep up all these monsters,’ Starkey said.

She acquiesced, however, and said she had faith that the end product would improve the county’s aesthetics.

The ultimate goal for the county is to remove some of the 509 billboard structures along local roads. If the companies install all 37 digital signs, measuring 672 feet each, the county could see more than a 60 percent reduction in roadside billboards, to 188 structures.

‘It could take decades,’ said Senior Assistant County Attorney Elizabeth Blair, who drafted the ordinance. ‘But 188 structures versus 509 now, that’s a huge difference.”

The county banned new billboards in 1999 amid public blowback against sign proliferation. However, in the weeks leading up to adoption of the ordinance, companies and private landowners flooded Pasco with permit applications for new signs.

In 2010, Clear Channel Outdoors, which has about a quarter of the billboard market in Pasco, got a cold shoulder from the county when it approached the commission about a digital swap. After the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg and Pinellas County approved similar ordinances, Clear Channel broached the topic again with the Pasco commission in early 2015 and found a more receptive audience.

Under the new ordinance, digital signs will be limited to U.S. 19, U.S. 41, State Roads 52 and 54 and Interstate 75, and half of the removed signs must come from those same roads. The only difference is along U.S. 19, where all new digital billboards must be must be accompanied by the removal of six billboards from the same road because of the county’s efforts to redevelop the west-side corridor.’

— C.T. Bowen, Pasco Times , Tampa Bay Times

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