Thursday, August 5, 2010

Community Meeting II on Electronic Signs & Billboards: Options and Categories

After "a two year saga", the Planning Department is winnowing down notions on regulating electronic signs.

The deadline for accepting public feedback via e-mail, snail mail and skywriting will be Sept. 1st, at which time experts will cloister themselves, draft a new law, and deliver it to the Planning Commission by the end of that month. That august body will be tasked with tweaking and approving it prior sending it to City Council and thence the Mayor.

Yesterday evening, staff from City Planning, together with its legal and scientific consultants, defined three (3) types of electronic signs to regulate differently: advertising electronic signs, non-advertising or "on-premise" electronic signs, and Major Public Destination Facility electronic signs.

For advertising electronic signs AKA digital billboards, one option is simply to ban them all in every city zoning district. The handful already in existence would become non-conforming uses, and then be regulated as to brightness, dwell time etc.

A second option on the table, nicknamed "Cap and Trade", would allow digital billboards almost wherever traditional billboards already exist -- but only if the applicant removes six times as much normal billboard face from the City. Essentially, this would legally enshrine the informal "6 for 36" deal which the City had kept with Lamar Advertising ever since a showdown during the Murphy administration. These will all be regulated for brightness et cetera.

The third and final option being considered for digital ads is to simply allow for unlimited electronic conversions of traditional billboards, and to allow for new ones almost wherever traditional billboards may already be permitted. The "almost" in both options 2 and 3 refer to extra prohibitions from historic districts, the Riverfront Overlay District, from "demanding driving environments" and from river views. Again, brightness and content regulations will apply.

For non-advertising, "on-premise" electronic signs such as business ID signs, our two options include: banning them entirely, or else allowing them anywhere electronic advertising billboards may dwell under Option 3 above.

Electronic Signs for Major Public Destination Facilities would constitute an exception to all categories and options above. These are presently defined as structures both "providing as its primary use cultural services, public assembly, and recreation and entertainment" and boasting either an annual "attendance" of at least 500,000 or a capacity to accommodate 10,000.

Major Public Destination Facilities would be permitted both one electronic sign and one video display each. Zoning, size and content restrictions are still being finalized, as perhaps are some definitions.

In addition, at the request of certain North Shore institutions, the city is "looking at" creating a "special signage district" in zoning districts DRA, DRB and DRC -- this being the North Shore.

A little more will be added as to how the discussion among residents and community and industry representatives proceeded. Nothing huge.


  1. Anything about how to make certain that somebody besides Lamar can bid if the billboard site is city owned? What with our needing revenue and all.

    Otherwise, I'm for option #1. If there is better money, I'll go for #2.

  2. Parking Garages have an annual attendance of over 500,000

    Just sayin'

  3. Anon 9:08 - The dimensions may well still disqualify the curvaceous board or the tickler or both -- as might possibly the zoning overlay -- but as I said, the guidelines for that category don't seem nearly settled yet.

    Just out of curiosity: if we transparently and properly legislated guidelines which would allow it to be finished, and if the alternative would be a $6? $8? million lawsuit against the City itself versus whatever potential relinquished revenue -- how would we feel about that? I remember somebody or other once opined that they wouldn't mind lending that area a bit of a Times-Squarish look.