Stand-alone, static billboards litter the highways and roadways across Pasco County despite a 17-year-ban on permitting new billboards.
Dismantling and removing many of these outdoor signs is a longstanding goal of county officials who want to reduce what they view as visual blight on county roads.
But, in a high technology world, the wave of the future is illuminated digital billboards that flip through multiple advertisements in seconds, and at night, illuminate the skyline while motorists zip by.
Owners of outdoor advertising companies are hoping to strike a deal with Pasco County commissioners to swap out some static billboards in return for installing a smaller number of digital billboards.
But, working out a formula for the trade-off is proving to be difficult.
On a 3-2 vote on Nov. 9, the Pasco County Commission decided to postpone a decision on the proposed ordinance for 30 days to allow additional negotiations.
Pasco County Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey took a tough stance on the matter — while commissioners Mike Moore, Jack Mariano and Mike Wells Jr., favored the delay.
“I think you guys are being played by a savvy industry,” Starkey said. “Why do we have to give them everything they want?”
The ordinance, if approved, would amend an existing one that bans new billboards. It also would add rules for companies seeking to convert static signs to digital ones.
The proposed formula is based on total square footage, not billboard structures or sign faces. It would result in removing about 10 billboards for every digital billboard that is installed.
Industry representatives lobbied for a five-to-one ratio, which they say would make the swap-out profitable for their companies, including Clear Channel, OUTFRONT Media and The Champion Family of Companies.
County staff members previously backed off an initial proposal for a 14-to-1 ratio.
There’s also disagreement over the rotation cycle for advertisements. The county set a limit of 30 seconds, while industry representatives favor 8 seconds.
Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore said industry input would be key to making the ordinance work.
“I would like to see some of your static billboards come down,” he said. “But, I don’t want to pass something and you’re not going to participate.”
County data shows there are 133 static billboards on U.S. 19.
The next highest count is on State Road 54, with 66 billboards, followed by U.S. 41, with 53; State Road 52, with 46; and Interstate 75 with 33. In total, the billboard structures account for about 172,000 square feet of advertising.
But, the 10-to-1 ratio just isn’t doable and could mean no static billboards will come down, said Tom O’Neill, local vice president for real estate and public affairs for Clear Channel Outdoors.
“I’m not saying you’re trying to be egregious, but you’ve got to get it closer to what we need,” he said.
Pasco County Commissioner Ted Schrader pointed out that it was industry representatives who pushed for the ordinance, not residents or chambers of commerce. He offered an 8-to-1 ratio compromise, but got no takers.
“I don’t know how this helps our local businesses,” he said. “To me it’s sort of the tail wagging the dog.”
Schrader suggested voting on the ordinance with the 10-to-1 ratio and giving it a chance to work.
He criticized industry representatives for missing a meeting with county staff to discuss the ordinance prior to the hearing. They did meet individually with some commissioners, he said.
“They chose not to lobby me, because they knew I couldn’t be persuaded,” Schrader said.
Wells Jr., who supported the delay, had a warning for industry representatives. “If you don’t meet with them (staff), I’m done, too,” he said.
The Nov. 9 commission meeting in New Port Richey was Schrader’s last meeting, after 16 years on the board.
His seat will be filled by Ron Oakley, who won the District 1 race on Nov. 8.
Published November 23, 2016