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S.L. Council puts moratorium on electronic billboards

Published: Wednesday, April 13 2011 12:29 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — The City Council has pulled the plug on electronic billboards, at least for the next nine months.

A unanimous vote by the council Tuesday night will prevent any new electronic billboards from going up in Salt Lake City this year, giving city officials time to decide if, where and how they should be allowed.

The council's action puts in place a moratorium rather than the outright ban originally proposed by Mayor Ralph Becker.

"It will give us an opportunity to look at where we want outdoor advertising and electronic billboards," said City Council Chairwoman Jill Remington Love.

City leaders have cited aesthetics and safety concerns as reasons for regulating electronic billboards in Utah's capital city.

A handful of traditional billboards already have been converted into electronic signs, and city leaders didn't want to allow that to continue without restrictions in place.

The City Council will be working with the Salt Lake City Planning Commission and representatives from the outdoor advertising industry in the coming months to set standards for electronic billboards — including location, height, brightness, proximity to other billboards and how often digital images would be allowed to change.

The Federal Highway Administration recently completed a study to analyze driver distraction and traffic concerns that may be related to electronic billboards. The results of that study have not yet been released.

"I think it's going to be important that we make modifications (to the ordinance) as we learn more about the studies coming out and as additional information comes to us," Councilman Stan Penfold said.

The City Council's action comes a week after billboard big wigs YESCO and Reagan Outdoor Advertising, along with Salt Lake City business owners, touted the merits of electronic billboards during a public hearing.

That feedback, at least in part, led city leaders to soften their stance from a ban to a moratorium.

"I believe in business, and I believe businesses need to be able to advertise," Councilman JT Martin said. "That's what keeps people coming in the door."

After the vote, Mayor Becker said he was supportive of the council's decision.

"This is what we need to do as a community," he said.

The city hasn't issued any permits for electronic billboards since October, when Becker first initiated the request to regulate them.

Frank Gray, the city's director of community and economic development, said the council can revisit the ordinance anytime during the nine-month moratorium.

"The goal is for it not to be any longer than that," Gray said.

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com Twitter: jaredpage

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