Council panel advances stripped-down billboard resolution

An outdoor advertising industry group backed off its Indianapolis digital billboard proposal because it faced losing a "yes" vote by Republican City-County Councilor Will Gooden.

“I wasn't going to be able to continue to support it,” Gooden said Monday night after the council's Metropolitan and Economic Development Committee unanimously approved a stripped-down version of the controversial Proposal 250. Gooden proposed an amendment to the proposal that removed language suggesting Indianapolis lift its ban on digital billboards and allow companies to convert a certain number of existing, static signs.

The industry-supported version drew opposition from 59 neighborhood and other organizations. Leaders of the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations, Historic Urban Neighborhoods of Indianapolis and several other groups supported Gooden's amendment.

The amended proposal will advance to the City-County Council as a special resolution, which is non-binding, that asks the Metropolitan Development Commission to consider whether to allow digital billboards, and if so, under what conditions. (All changes to the zoning code must originate with the MDC, an appointed board.)

Gooden said he'd decided the ongoing, heated discussion about where the signs could be located, and how many could be erected, should be led by professional planners at the Department of Metropolitan Development.

City planners have said in the past that they don't have time to evaluate an end to the digital billboard ban. Now it appears that the department could initiate a stakeholder-driven process later this year.

Indy Rezone, an overhaul of the main zoning code that does not touch on sign regulations, could be presented for the council's approval as soon as June, Gooden said. Indy Rezone has been a three-and-a-half year project.

Competing billboard companies coalesced around Proposal 250 because it could have given each of them an opportunity to convert static, traditional signs to digital with as many as 75 appearing in a 36-month period. As recently as last week, the industry was pushing for the suggested language.

The Indy Digital Billboard Alliance released the following statement after Monday night's 8-0 vote:

“This approach balances the interests of all stakeholders in a manner which will hopefully result in allowing digital billboards in Indianapolis.”

Indianapolis banned digital billboards in 2003. The outdoor advertising industry contends that ban was driven by old technology and is no longer needed.

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