Do we really need more billboards?

Keywords Forefront / Opinion

Celestino-HorsemanHow frustrating is it to be driving down our Indiana highways only to have our view of farmland and trees interrupted by the visual clutter of billboards?

Driving south on Interstate 65 from Indianapolis, for example, motorists encounter billboard clutter around Austin and Scottsburg. And of course let’s not forget the infamous billboards as one exits Indiana and enters Kentucky.

Indianapolis and Marion County have worked long and hard to limit billboards around Interstate 465 and our highways. And we have been successful—until now.

As of this moment, no new billboards are allowed within Indianapolis and Marion County. This applies equally to static and digital billboards. That could change if the City-County Council adopts an ordinance drafted by Department of Metropolitan Development staff.

Under the ordinance, a billboard company would be allowed one square foot of new billboard signage for every square foot of existing billboards removed from residential areas, and one square foot of new billboard signage for every two square feet of billboard square footage removed from commercial or sparsely developed areas.

The proposal was created by the billboard companies and first offered under Mayor Greg Ballard’s administration. Neighborhood representatives, who strongly lobbied against this legislation, ultimately defeated the ordinance.

Now the billboard companies have come forward with the same proposal, but this time it has the full support of the current administration, which claims neighborhoods have requested this proposal in order to remove billboards from residential areas. That is not true; it is the neighborhoods who are once again fighting the ordinance.

I chaired the sign ordinance committee that was tasked with providing input on the ordinance. During my tenure, I felt it was my obligation to act as Switzerland to better facilitate discussion and communication. Now that the committee has finished its work, I want to share my observations.

The purpose of the committee was to discuss and provide input. However, despite the urging of the neighborhood representatives, there was no real consideration given by the city to maintaining the current ban on new billboards.

The neighborhoods were clear that—at the very least—if the city was going to allow billboard clutter on our highways, it should seek more favorable ratios than a one-for-one tradeoff—the most favorable ratio for the billboard companies.

At no point was there a discussion of a need for more billboards in Indianapolis, other than the billboard companies seeking to provide more advertising outlets. The only beneficiaries of the billboard portion of the sign ordinance are the billboard companies.

The staff who worked on the proposal did a fine job given their constraints. The remainder of the sign ordinance revisions are much needed. But the billboard portion of the ordinance allowing new construction should be stricken. I have yet to hear residents clamoring for more billboards.

I would ask the city to reconsider its support of the billboard portion of this ordinance. I would also ask all city-county councilors to join the councilors who are supporting the neighborhoods and vote against this proposal.

We do not need additional billboards. If we open the door to allowing new construction, it might lead to variances of the sign ordinance that would allow even more new billboard construction. Let’s keep Indianapolis and Marion County free of new billboards.•

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Celestino-Horseman is an attorney and represents the Indiana Latino Democratic Caucus on the Democratic State Central Committee. Send comments to [email protected]

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