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Billboard foe takes aim at heavily lobbied Pinellas plan



With a final vote due Tuesday, Scenic Pinellas leader and Clearwater City Council member Bill Jonson has fired off a letter stabbing at the proposed deal the Clear Channel, CBS Outdoor and county officials worked out to allow more digital billboards.

Among other wrinkles, the proposal to be heard at a 6:30 p.m. public hearing will allow the companies to add several more digital signs including more traditional signs that already have to come down.

"The net result is more profits for the billboard companies and more clutter and distractions along Pinellas roadsides, without the promised acceleration of removals," Jonson wrote to Commission Chairwoman Susan Latvala, a longtime ally to the billboard companies. The letter is below.

July 21, 2011

The Honorable Susan Latvala
Pinellas County Board of Commissioners
315 Court Street
Clearwater Florida 33756

Dear Chairman Latvala:

Pinellas Billboard Companies continue the relentless effort to overturn the 1993 sign code.  This time they seek rights to erect digital sign faces without honoring previously agreed to trade-ins of old signs.
In 1993 the County adopted a new sign ordinance that required the removal of 183 billboards from local roads in unincorporated portions of Pinellas.  The removal was to occur after a seven year investment recovery time.  The billboard company would retain ownership of the sign structure and could relocate the structure elsewhere.
Seven years later, rather than comply with the 1993 ordinance, that they themselves helped to write, they choose to sue to stop the removal provisions.  During negotiations, the billboard companies signed agreements to remove the specified billboards over a period of time ending as late as 2042.  The biggest number of removals in any one year was 57 in 2042 and the second largest number of removals was 26 in 2012.
Clear Channel Outdoor first proposed a modification that would allow them the ability to install changeable digital sign faces on some of their billboard structures.  Their proposal offered to accelerate the scheduled removal of nonconforming billboards in exchange for the conversion to digital sign faces.  After discussions with the billboard companies and other groups staff drafted a proposed ordinance and presented it to the Local Planning Agency in October 2010.  None of the signs scheduled for removal prior to 2018 were proposed to be used in the exchange for digital sign faces.  This date was later moved to January 1, 2013 (by whom, when, how was this change made and reviewed?)
In the current version of the ordinance the billboard companies have convinced the county to change the exchange date to July 26, 2011.  The effect of this change is that the billboard companies can use the 26 signs previously scheduled for removal in 2012 as part of the exchange deal without any significant acceleration of the scheduled billboard takedowns.  The net result is more profits for the billboard companies and more clutter and distractions along Pinellas roadsides, without the promised acceleration of removals.
ACTION REQUESTED:  If the Pinellas Board of Commissioners is going to allow new digital signs, they should protect the interest of our community and return to the earlier language requiring true acceleration of the scheduled billboard removals. 

William Jonson

[Last modified: Monday, July 25, 2011 2:27pm]


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