Council committee postpones vote on controversial digital billboard proposal

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - After a nearly six-hour-long meeting, a city-county council committee delayed a vote on a controversial proposal to bring digital billboards to Marion County. It came after the meeting had to be moved from its typical spot because of the oversized crowd.

Dozens of concerned citizens waited for hours so they could comment on the proposal on Monday night. The Metropolitan & Economic Development Committee heard from billboard industry representatives in support of the digital signs and representatives from more than thirty neighborhood and community groups who said they do not support the billboards and do not support the billboard resolution in its current form.

The proposal's drawn some ire from city residents because of years-long conversations advertising executives have held with city lawmakers, and they claim the industry-backed proposal skirts the proper method of initiating such a change.

Committee members delayed a vote until April 6th, ordering advertising representatives to try and work with neighborhoods to iron out differences.

"This is not the right process. Kicking the can down until the April meeting just continues a billboard industry driven process," said Marjorie Kienle, with Historic Urban Neighborhoods of Indianapolis, "We don't want to tweak something written by the billboard industry."

Under the proposal no billboards would be added, but some existing static billboards would be converted to digital. The most billboard faces that could be converted in the first year would be 25. In the second and third years there would be 20 additional each year, with only four conversions allowed after that.

Some neighbors want that conversion rate to be high, like ten static billboards for every electronic. Industry executives believe that's too much. They called Indianapolis "under-billboarded," saying the city has between 1700 and 1800 billboards, total.

"Considering the fact that there's many cities that you don't have to take any down, our proposal of one to one considering the fact that in the last ten years we've gone back at least 109 faces between ClearChannel, and Lamar, and CBS, we've gone back in inventory. One to one is very fair," said Chris Iversen, Vice-President and General Manager of Lamar Advertising.

Digital billboards would have to be at least 500 feet from residential areas.

"Five hundred feet from a home is not a good distance. It's crazy. You don't want to be that five hundred feet, you try to sleep at night, and there's a huge jumbo-tron 500 feet away changing ads every eight seconds," said Pat Andrews, who presented to the council Monday night.

Other concerns are whether electronic billboards could be posted outside mixed-use residential buildings, like downtown apartments.

"There are substantive issues that need to be addressed. I honestly think that there was this sense that people were like, oh, I don't want billboards at all. And there are some that think that way, but there are some serious issues, and they need to take a look at this and amend it and address it. And if not, then, it's not going to go anywhere," said Jeff Miller, City-County Councillor.

Industry representatives said they are willing to work with neighborhood associations and make changes to the proposal.

The proposal's sponsor said Monday some of the issues brought up are valid, and despite criticism, she said the council action is a proper way to bring up the digital billboard issue.

"The process, for me, is fine for the council to initiate this," said Mary Moriarty Adams, City-County Councillor.

Even if the full council were to sign off on the proposal, the Department of Metropolitan Development would be in charge of crafting changes to the sign ordinance and holding additional public hearings. Neighborhood groups at the meeting said DMD should be the agency to initiate any changes and be in charge of starting this process, not the City-County Council.