Tacoma’s City Council called today for quick removal of at least 190 billboards, and possibly dozens more, reigniting a legal fight with sign owner Clear Channel Outdoor.
The council voted 7-1, with Joe Lonergan opposed and Spiro Manthou absent, to tighten zoning restrictions for billboards, set a new deadline for removal of those that don’t comply, and ban the modern versions that switch messages electronically.
By keeping digital billboards out of Tacoma, the council backs out of a legal settlement with Clear Channel that it had approved unanimously last year.
The agreement called for allowing Clear Channel to put up digital boards in exchange for tearing down traditional signs that don’t conform to the law. Though that part of the deal will now be defunct, the agreement also calls on the city to pay Clear Channel the market value of billboards the company is forced to remove outside the agreement. That could be ammunition for a court challenge.
“This has the potential to cost the taxpayers millions of dollars,” Michael Mayes, Clear Channel Outdoor’s Seattle real estate director, told the council tonight. “It opens the city up to additional legal exposure and significant financial risk.”
Councilmen David Boe and Marty Campbell proposed the law, which doubles the required space between billboards and places like residential districts, parks, churches, schools and historic districts.
City planners say they haven’t determined how many more signs will become “nonconforming” under the proposed rules. Staff had determined roughly 193 of the city’s 253 billboard faces didn’t conform to the old rules.
All nonconforming signs would have to be removed within six months. Permits that allow companies to replace a demolished billboard in a new spot would expire after a year. Clear Channel holds 169 of those relocation permits.
The law adds landscaping and lighting requirements, including a ban on flashing lights. It lays out how billboard faces must be mounted on their structures.
Council members agreed the council would return to the topic of digital signs. Considering there are electronic signs at city facilities Cheney Stadium and the Tacoma Dome, Mayor Marilyn Strickland said, the city needs to set fair standards.
“At some point in the future, in the near future, we’re going to have a serious conversation about digital and talk about where digital can fit into our landscape, because I do think it’s possible,” Strickland said.
UPDATED 7:10 p.m.