Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jacksonville considers reinterpreting city charter to allow digital billboards

The city of Jacksonville, FL is poised to be bombarded with a slew of digital billboards if a new interpretation of the city charter is allowed to stand.

photo by Max Ashburn
A 1995 settlement agreement between the city, concerned citizens and billboard companies prohibited construction of new billboards in Jacksonville.  It also sought to gradually clean up the city's visual environment by requiring that a certain number of signs come down each year in residential areas and allowing a certain number to be rebuilt along busy commercial corridors using "identical sign faces."

In 2009 Clear Channel Outdoor requested permits to rebuild four billboards as digital billboards, a request that was denied by then-City Attorney Shannon Eller, who said flat out that the digital signs were a completely different kind of billboard and not identical in any way to the ones they would be replacing.

Digital billboards were not mentioned in the 1995 settlement agreement because there were no digital billboards in Duval County at that time.  In fact digital billboards as we know them today didn't exist at all in 1995.  However, any common sense interpretation of the requirement for an "identical" or "exact" sign face replacement says that a static sign rebuilt as digital does not meet that requirement.

Still, current city attorneys and the departing mayor stand poised to allow this reinterpretation (or really, misinterpretation), to go through.  They are sure to meet strong opposition from citizens, community groups and the legal community.  Stay tuned.

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