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New billboard sign bill causing controversy

Local attorney says signs distract drivers

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The latest proposed bill has some calling it an eye sore, but others say it's good for business. That's the debate going on right now over billboards.

Councilman Richard Clark introduced a bill last month that could reopen a decades-old political struggle over regulating billboards on the city's streets.

Many are opposed to more billboards, saying they've worked so hard over the past 25 years to get rid of them.

Councilman Bill Bishop said not only do these billboards take away from our city's scenery, but that they also keep people's eyes off the road, making them a very dangerous distraction.

Many new billboards go from one ad to another every eight seconds.

"Allow someone to put a billboard up across the street from your house, that's what this bill would do," Bishop said.

That is one of many negative affects Bishop says more billboards would have on the city. He also says they're eyesores.

"They're ugly, they're just flat out ugly," he said.

In 1987, voters approved a change in the city charter to phase out billboard use. Bishop said within the last 25 years the city has been successful in gradually removing billboards. He said Clark's introduction of a bill that would allow more billboards is taking a giant step backward.

The bill states new signs could be set up in areas with commercial, industrial or public-building zonings, as long as they are set back 200 feet from residential areas. They would be limited to 672 square feet and 65 feet in height. In addition, the bill would allow sign owners to switch to newer digital billboards that can be up to six stories tall.

Local attorney William Brinton represents Scenic Jacksonville and said if this bill were to pass, it would have a long-term, negative impact on Jacksonville.

"It will affect our city for 70 years, and I say 70 years because the life of a modern steel structure is up to seven decades, so this will have a dramatic change over our skyline and how our city looks," Brinton said.

Brinton also agrees with Bishop that one of the biggest concerns has to do with safety.

"It's to get the attention of drivers," said Brinton. "What are you supposed to be doing when you're driving? Pay attention to the road. These things are deigned to distract your eyes from driving, to look at the sign."

The proposed 23-page bill was prepared by an attorney representing the billboard company Clear Channel Outdoor. Brent Bolick, president of Clear Channel Outdoor in Jacksonville, issued the following statement Monday:

"Billboards play a vital role in Jacksonville, promoting local businesses, the arts and not-for-profits, and supporting law enforcement and emergency services. As a proud member of the Jacksonville community, Clear Channel supports reasonable regulations that will ensure billboards can continue to play these important roles.

"The claim that the proposed legislation will allow billboards to proliferate in Jacksonville is misleading and absurd. First, the legislation caps the amount of billboards at today's levels, and creates incentives for sign companies to remove additional signs. If a company wants to put up a new board, it first has to take down two existing boards. Second, new boards will only be allowed in commercial, industrial and public zoning districts - and only on sites that comply with height, spacing and separation requirements. It does not allow new signs in historic districts or residential neighborhoods.

By promoting fewer, more modern and more useful signs, this legislation promotes Jacksonville economically, civically and aesthetically."

Bishop said it could be months before a vote comes, but he said a workshop will be held within the next couple of weeks.