Signs of the times: Council is right to call for billboard pause

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When the road ahead has lots of twists and turns, the best way to go forward is slowly and with caution.

That's the wise course that City Council has taken in calling for a temporary moratorium on construction of billboards within city limits until question marks are removed from the approval process.

The latest controversy started when Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Pat Ford made a deal that allowed Lamar Advertising to build a 1,200-square-foot digital billboard on the Grant Street Transportation Center. In exchange for the new Downtown space, the company agreed to remove some of its smaller billboards. There were no public bids, votes or hearings.

Complicated city zoning regulations suggest the Planning Commission and City Council hearings and approval are required even when signs are smaller than Lamar's new one would be, and the majority of council sees it that way, too. But city administrators argue that the zoning code does not specifically address the question of trading billboards, which they say obviates the need for a public process.

Councilman Bruce Kraus has called for the moratorium while the disagreement is resolved. Further, council has drafted a remedy that would give council a vote on any sign replacement agreements. That fix, in the form of a short amendment to the zoning code, may not be quite right. The solution must be consistent with other parts of the code, and that blanket power for council does not seem to be.

None of this is to suggest that a moratorium on billboards should be permanent. A group in Lawrenceville, for instance, wants two new digital signs in the neighborhood in exchange for Lamar removing more vinyl versions.

The challenge will be finding a way that continues to allow advertising that enlivens the cityscape without cluttering it up.

Council has more work to do.



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