Staugustine.com By Jake Martin March 29, 2017
Florida-It’s back to the drawing board for Clear Channel and other outdoor media owners in St. Johns County after the company withdrew its bid last week for a digital billboards pilot program along Interstate 95.
County Administrator Michael Wanchick told The Record on Tuesday he believed Clear Channel, in its decision, was being “sensitive” to opposition garnered in recent months against the proposed two-year program.
While industry representatives said going digital is another sign of the times, residents speaking in opposition said the boards are distracting by nature, costly and pose increased safety and environmental hazards over their canvas counterparts, which they also opposed.
The county’s Planning and Zoning Agency had excluded the digital billboards component from its 5-1 recommendation on Feb. 16 to approve changes to signage regulations in the Land Development Code. The item was due back to the County Commission for a final hearing on April 4.
Discussion on the pilot program was lumped in with other proposed amendments to bring the county’s sign code into compliance with a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding content neutrality. Wanchick said those amendments would come back before the board, likely at the April 18 meeting, minus the provisions for digital billboards.
Clear Channel formally backed out Friday via a letter sent to commissioners.
Wanchick said Clear Channel determined it would be a “better strategy” to drop back, address the community’s concerns, refine its proposal and, perhaps, bring it back for consideration “at some point in the future yet to be determined.”
“I don’t think it will be anytime soon,” he added.
Wanchick said he thought it was “only fair” to give the industry a chance to address some of the questions and concerns raised by a community that had “become more engaged on the issue” as it proceeded.
“I commend Clear Channel for their observations and their assessment of the situation and I appreciate their efforts to be constructive and not put everyone through a long, drawn-out process,” he said.
Wanchick said the company can decide if and when it wants to bring proposal back before the board, unless the commission or another party altogether wants to proceed with something different on its own.
County staff had recommended approval of a two-year test run “to allow time for multiple electronic billboards to be erected and observed, then assessing the strengths and possible downsides of the program.”
The proposed changes would have allowed billboards using light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, to project multiple advertisements on a single billboard. Those advertisements would remain static on the billboard no less than eight seconds before changing, on an automated basis, to a different advertisement. Provisions would be included to prohibit animation, flashing, or the appearance of moving objects on the face of the billboards.
Locations of digital billboards would have been along “appropriately zoned” parcels adjacent to I-95. There were also several limitations regarding separation between signs, distance from existing structures, as well as size and brightness.
According to a draft ordinance, however, any digital billboards permitted within the two-year window would have been permitted to remain regardless of whether the program was extended by the County Commission upon expiration of the pilot.