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Pinellas County may let moratorium on digital billboards expire

CLEARWATER — A moratorium on digital billboards in unincorporated Pinellas County could be gone within a month.

At a public hearing Tuesday, a majority of county commissioners signaled they would let the moratorium, in place since 2009, expire next month. In addition, they weakened some proposed restrictions on the billboards when they start popping up.

In 2009, billboard company Clear Channel sought approval for 20 digital signs and wanted the county to lower its minimum run time for the ads from 60 seconds to six. With few written standards — and county employees warning about distracted drivers and complaints of blight — the board imposed the moratorium.

Pinellas has four digital billboards. Clear Channel has pushed to build the more lucrative digital billboards across Tampa Bay, an effort that includes an ongoing debate in St. Petersburg.

After presentations Tuesday by Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor, commissioners wanted to soften limits proposed by their staff on height, allowable locations and distance between billboards — sticking points to building new digital signs, the companies said.

Under the Pinellas measure, the companies could build digital billboards only on major roads — such as U.S. 19, Interstate 275 and Gandy Boulevard — as long as traditional billboards are removed.

For each digital sign, a company would have to tear down four similarly sized traditional sign faces. If a company wants to flash ads as fast as every 15 seconds instead of 60, another four sign faces would have to go. Commissioners will vote on the proposed rules April 26.

Companies already have to remove dozens more billboards as part of settlements reached in 2002 and 2003. But it won't be until 2042 that all those signs are gone.

Commission Chairwoman Susan Latvala repeatedly asked for looser restrictions, questioning the risk and impositions on the industry.

"If you're driving, you're not looking at billboards," she said.

But Commissioner Ken Welch said he couldn't support the new requirements without accelerating the 2042 deadline to remove billboards — a point echoed by Commissioners John Morroni and Karen Seel. Clear Channel officials objected, though they hinted they'd negotiate.

"I think we've given a lot here," said vice president Tom O'Neill, of Clear Channel.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/decamptimes.

Pinellas County may let moratorium on digital billboards expire 04/12/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 9:16pm]
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