Pasco County officials want to weed out unsightly static billboards in favor of a more limited number of electronic billboards.
But, how to swap out one for the other and how quickly to do that are issues that are open for debate.
Pasco County commissioners discussed the matter at a workshop on Oct. 13 in New Port Richey.
County staff members in the coming months will compile an inventory of existing billboards and locations, get input from stakeholders — including business owners and residents— and draft an ordinance permitting electronic billboards.
The public would have an opportunity to weigh in before a new ordinance could be adopted.
Staff members estimate the process could take a year-and-a-half. Some commissioners want a much shorter time span, and a quick route to taking down static billboards.
Looking at how Hillsborough and Pinellas counties handle the matter would provide ready answers, said Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore.
“Talk to them. Figure it out. Get it done in a week,” he said. “We’re going to sit here and talk about this for a year? Come on, guys.”
Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, and Tampa negotiated agreements with billboard companies to swap out multiple numbers of the old billboards in return for new, but lower numbers of permits for electronic billboards.
The electronic billboards, with two sides, rotate digital advertisements every few seconds. These are becoming standard fare along busy interstates. The fees for these digital messages are more expensive than those for standard, one-sided billboards.
“These are so much cleaner than regular billboards,” Moore said. “They look so much better.”
Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano suggested letting the billboard industry provide data and recommend a swap-out ratio to take some of the research burden off county staff members. At minimum, he would anticipate an industry recommendation to remove five static billboards for each single electronic billboard.
“Let them do their own homework and what signs they want to take down,” he said.
Commissioners then can look at the proposal and decide if it works for the county, Mariano added.
Staff members have met with four companies that each has 10 or more static billboards in Pasco: Clear Channel, Champion Outdoor Advertising, Outfront Media and Logan Outdoor Advertising. They plan to continue with these discussions, as well as talking with small business owners.
In 1999, the county adopted a moratorium on new billboards. The inventory at the time showed 537 registered billboards in the county. Those numbers are somewhat lower now, said Pat Wallace, a county senior development review technician.
The moratorium should remain in effect, said Pasco County Chairman Ted Schrader. “I don’t want to see a bunch of new signs going up,” he said. “I’m absolutely opposed to that.”
It is not clear, even with a new ordinance allowing electronic billboards, just when Pasco would see them popping up. The county’s population isn’t considered dense enough to warrant them as yet.
“It will be years before they actually do it,” said Elizabeth Blair, Pasco County assistant attorney. “It’s not financially productive to them.”
Exactly where the flashier billboards would go also could raise concerns with residents, especially those living near commercial corridors, said Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey.
“I can’t think of very many people in our county for whom an electronic billboard won’t be disruptive,” she said.
Published October 28, 2015