Council panel postpones vote on controversial billboard plan to consider changes

Members of the Indianapolis City-County Council want more time to consider—and likely make changes to—a controversial proposal that would lift the city’s ban on digital billboards.

The council's Metropolitan and Economic Development Committee was scheduled Monday night to take up the sign ordinancewhich would impose a cap-and-trade-like system and incentivize billboard companies to take down old static billboards in exchange for credits to convert billboards to digital. But instead, the committee postponed voting on the proposal until Feb. 11.

"We all have received lots of calls” on the proposal, said Council Vice President Zach Adamson, who said the delay would “allow additional conversation" on whether or not to amend the proposal or accept it as written.

Adamson is one of at least 11 council members—out of 25—that have expressed reservations about the proposed changes to the sign ordinance, which have been endorsed by Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration as a compromise between neighborhoods and billboard companies. 

However, neighborhood leaders say the proposed ordinance is not strict enough and want to restrict the number of digital billboards that could eventually go up in Marion County.

Adamson said Hogsett's solution is not making anyone happy. He said he would prefer to keep the ban on digital billboards intact, but he said he is willing to compromise.

"The sign people aren’t happy and the neighborhoods are furious," Adamson said. "We’re trying to inch that process closer to the center so we can find something a little more palatable. My hope is is we come to the next meeting on Feb. 11 with, I hope, a ban that will remain intact and, if not, an amendment that pulls it closer to the center."

But the council has limited time to act if it wants to make changes. The council has until Feb. 25 to take up the matter. If it fails to act, the version endorsed by Hogsett's team will go into effect.

“The clock is ticking,” said Jefferson Shreve, Republican council member.

Emily Mack, director of the Department of Metropolitan Development, told IBJ she has been regularly briefing council members on the sign ordinance as requested, but she was not aware if it would be changed by the council.

The city currently has four digital billboards: two at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on state-owned land that’s exempt from city zoning control and two on Interstate 70 that are permitted as a result of a 2017 lawsuit settlement. If the ordinance passes, the city could eventually see 65 more digital billboard faces (a face is one side of a two-sided billboard), albeit limited to I-465 and its outer spokes.

Under the mayor’s proposal, out of the nearly 700 current billboard locations in town, just 58 would be eligible for conversion to digital, because of the proposal’s restrictions against locating billboards in neighborhoods or historic districts, or near schools, churches or parks.

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