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Utah fights visual clutter


By Derek P. Jensen

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Apr 12 2011 10:42PM
Updated Apr 13, 2011 09:25AM

Utah’s powerful billboard industry, which sees its future in electronic signs, suddenly has a blackout zone – Salt Lake City.

By unanimous vote, the City Council elected Tuesday to ban any new electronic billboard or the conversion of existing billboards to digital along all major roadways throughout the state’s capital.

Urged by Mayor Ralph Becker to take action, the council agreed – in the face of heated billboard-industry pressure – that glowing, image-swapping signs are a public-safety distraction to freeway drivers. At the same time, the council agreed to revisit the new ordinance (along with new studies on the impact of e-billboards) and perhaps make tweaks within nine months.

Council Chairwoman Jill Remington Love said the prohibition is not meant to disparage billboard companies, particularly Young Electric Sign Company – a “great, corporate citizen” with a near-60-year legacy. Instead, Love said, the ban will give City Hall an opportunity to look at “how do we showcase our skyline and how do we showcase our mountains? We are the capital city and we are a beautiful city. For me, while there may be studies that show that billboards may not be a distraction, it’s just common sense. … I don’t need studies to tell me that.”
Becker, who called it a “passionate subject,” said the restriction is important for Utah’s progressive capital community. “We have a new form of billboards and we don’t have standards, really, for that,” the mayor said. “We need to get a handle on that before we’re overwhelmed by electronic billboards.”

The city’s blackout will not affect its six existing electronic billboards. Neither will it impact digital business signs, though the Mayor’s Office insists regulations on those so-called “on-premise” signs must be contemplated soon.

A team of billboard executives waited patiently for hours before Tuesday’s vote. They filed out without addressing the council.

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