Salt Lake City leaders want to ban electronic billboards

Published: Monday, March 21 2011 5:01 p.m. MDT

Electronic Billboard near the 600 South off ramp from I-15 Monday, March 21, 2011.

Scott G. Winterton, Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — What happens in Salt Lake City … well, it generally doesn't require a slogan about secrecy.

Utah's capital city isn't Las Vegas, and city leaders want to make sure it stays that way.

That's part of the reason Mayor Ralph Becker is asking the City Council to ban electronic billboards and prevent existing roadside advertising from converting to ads with changing images and flashing lights.

"The image of the city should not be that of Las Vegas," said Frank Gray, Salt Lake City's director of community and economic development.

Traditional billboards already fail to provide motorists entering the city with the type of welcome city leaders would like, Gray said. The potential for those billboards to be converted into signs with unsynchronized flashing images would be even further from that ideal, he said.

"That's not the image that any of us want for this beautiful city and for what the city represents to the state as its capital," Gray said.

On Tuesday, the Salt Lake City Council will discuss proposed zoning changes that would ban electronic billboards and provide criteria for those already operating in the city. The council also plans to set a public hearing on the issue for April 5.

City officials say there are six electronic billboards in the city, though the permitting of three of those is in dispute. City leaders hope to work out an agreement with Reagan Outdoor Advertising Inc. that would allow those signs to continue to operate but only change images once every 24 hours. If not, the issue could end up in court, Gray said.

"There's some question about whether those (three electronic billboards) were put up in a legitimate fashion," he said.

Messages left for Reagan Outdoor Advertising President Dewey Reagan were not immediately returned Monday.

Permits for electronic billboards have been withheld by the city since October, when Mayor Becker first initiated the request to regulate them. The regulations apply only to "off-premise advertising," such as billboards along roadways, not storefront signs.

"It's the mayor's intent to establish a citywide ban on electronic billboards," said Art Raymond, Becker's spokesman.

Electronic billboards are becoming more common across the nation because often they're more visible, and companies can lease the sign space to more than one company at a time.

In addition to problems with public perception, city officials say the electronic billboards cause safety concerns.

The Federal Highway Administration has been conducting a study to analyze driver distraction and traffic concerns that may be related to electronic billboards. Results from the second phase of that study are expected this month.

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com

Twitter: jaredpage

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