Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Plug the loopholes and do the digital billboard deal in St. Petersburg

Several of our communities in the Tampa Bay area are dealing with the question of digital billboards.

Pinellas County has imposed a delay of up to a year on new ones, waiting for a federal safety study. The city of Tampa is wrestling with the issue, too.

As for St. Petersburg, the question must be answered immediately. Mayor Rick Baker has struck a proposed deal to allow them; the deal is in front of the City Council.

The mayor's deal with Clear Channel Communications involves a 10-for-1 swap.

The company, which owns 144 of the roughly 180 billboards in the city, would take down 100 signs, in exchange for 10 digital billboards on major highways — Interstate 275 and its spurs, 34th Street, and three boulevards: Gandy, Tyrone and Roosevelt.

The city's ban on billboards within 500 feet of a residential area would stay in effect. The new billboards would be larger, up to 14 feet by 48 feet.

Should the City Council approve the mayor's deal? I'd suggest there are three levels of consideration:

(1) The aesthetic tradeoff, which is somewhat a matter of opinion. The mayor feels that it is worth the trade, getting rid of 100 billboards around the city in exchange for 10 digital signs on the highways. If you hate digital billboards with a passion, you could make the opposite case.

(2) The safety question. Are digital billboards too distracting to drivers? There's a major federal study coming out in 2010, and critics of the St. Petersburg deal argue that any decision should be delayed (which is the path that Pinellas County took).

On the other hand, there already is a mountain of conflicting studies, and the 2010 report is not going to make new recommendations about rules, placement and so forth. The city's proposed rules for digital billboards do contain good safety requirements.

(3) On the most detailed level, there are some loose spots in the new ordinance and deal with Clear Channel the City Council is being asked to approve.

Personally, I wouldn't approve the ordinance without these changes. However, the mayor and his staff seem amenable to making them:

• Making it clear that all future requests for digital billboards — not just the Clear Channel deal — require a swap of existing signs. The practical effect would be to limit future digital billboards to existing owners.

• Making it clear that any digital billboard must be on the spot of an existing sign.

• Including a specific, 2,500-foot minimum distance between signs, in addition to the requirement that drivers not be able to see two at once.

• Clearing up confusing language over maximum allowed height, and a loophole that allows extra height in case of visual obstruction such as trees.

Lastly, a suggestion from the group Scenic St. Petersburg makes sense: We're talking about an industry known for challenging sign ordinances in court. Would it hurt to hire the Smartest Billboard Lawyer in the World for advice on whether this ordinance has unintended consequences?

This brings us back to the issues of whether to wait for the federal safety study, which is a reasonable thing to argue, and whether you just don't like digital billboards, which is a personal position.

Me, I'm a digital kind of guy. I'd plug the loopholes, check with a smart lawyer and take the deal. No plugs, no deal.

Plug the loopholes and do the digital billboard deal in St. Petersburg 12/07/09 [Last modified: Monday, December 7, 2009 8:19pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Review: Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald team up to cool down the Clearwater Jazz Holiday

    Blogs

    A cool breeze swept through Coachman Park Saturday night. Couple of them, actually.

    Kenny Loggins performed at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday on Oct. 21, 2017.
  2. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start

    College

    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  3. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Ryan Callahan spent a lot of time last season rehabilitating his injured hip alongside Steven Stamkos, who was rehabbing a knee after season-ending surgery. During those hours, Callahan noticed two things about Stamkos: his hunger and his excitement to return this season.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  4. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy

    World

    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  5. Funeral held for soldier at center of political war of words (w/video)

    Nation

    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102