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Tampa council postpones vote on billboard issue

TAMPA –– A 10-year legal battle between the city and two billboard giants will continue a little longer.

The City Council voted Thursday to postpone until Nov. 5 a vote on a settlement agreement after hearing from neighborhood advocates who asked for more time to review the ordinance. They just received the documents on Friday.

The hang-up: An ordinance tied to the agreement that would allow digital billboards in the city.

A provision in the agreements with CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel Communication would allow the companies to opt out of the settlement if the city doesn't come up with an ordinance to allow electronic billboards.

"This feels like blackmail," said Seminole Heights residents Susan Long. "We have to decide what, if any, digital billboards we want regardless of what these huge corporations want."

Long said she doesn't want them anywhere, noting that even the signs over the interstates that provide traffic information are distracting.

The Council scheduled a workshop on the ordinance for Dec. 3.

The ordinance is the result of an agreement settling 10 years of litigation with CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel Outdoor. Negotiations began after the companies sued the city because new rules forced them to take down billboards to improve the look of some roads but offered no options for relocation.

Since then, digital billboards have seen technological advances, allowing companies to sell one space multiple times.

Earlier this year, the City Council rejected agreements with CBS and Clear Channel that would have allowed them to replace traditional billboards with digital ones that are like giant TV screens and feature constantly changing messages.

Neighborhood groups worried that light from the signs would intrude in their homes and hurt the character of historic districts.

So the council and Mayor Pam Iorio decided to pull the digital billboard provisions from the settlement agreements and address them with the city's sign code.

The proposed rules forbid electronic signs in historic districts. They also limit the signs' light intensity to no more than 0.3 foot candles, or about 15 times brighter than the light of a full moon, at a distance of 200 feet. The previous rules would have allowed a light intensity 10 times that amount.

The ordinance also caps the number of electronic billboards at 35 to 40 throughout the city. Combined, CBS and Clear Channel have more than 1,300 billboards in Tampa.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Tampa council postpones vote on billboard issue 10/15/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 15, 2009 1:10pm]

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