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Published: Thursday, 3/21/2002

Time to ban billboards

Banning new billboards isn't enough to cut through the visual clutter that mars our urban landscape. What City Council really needs to do is go further and make Toledo a billboard-free city. It will require some political guts, but the need could not be clearer. Just look up.

Let's not stop with half-measures, compromises, or options: Clean up the blight.

Toledo has become a billboard wasteland, an unfortunate reality not necessarily apparent to those who live here and have grown accustomed to the rampant eye pollution. But it is obvious - painfully so - to visitors and Toledoans who've been away any length of time.

Who will want to bring new jobs to a town that looks like this? The situation is completely out of control.

City Council is considering a ban on the erection of new billboards, but that's not enough. It would leave 814 of the big commercial signs still standing within the city limits. Some stand so close to homes that they literally block the sun.

The current city code is far too permissive, and look what it has led to. Billboards of up to 672 square feet can black out the sky. These huge signs can stand as close together as 500 feet, and they can be located just seven feet - seven feet! - from a residential lot.

Toledoans who live in the shadow of one of these monstrosities would certainly agree that the city does have the right to rein in this abuse of our visual senses. Yes, there likely will be litigation from vested interests, but council should face up to the threat and do the right thing for its residents.

If making Toledo sign-free hurts the outdoor advertising business, it's a business that is simply paying the price for its excesses and intransigence. The current moratorium was put in place two years ago after complaints from a homeowner involving a billboard in the Dorr Street-Reynolds Road area that was erected right on the seven-foot setback line. City Council sought a compromise with the sign industry but was arrogantly rebuffed. Applications are pending for another 85 billboards. They must be denied.

Across the country, more than 700 communities, including big cities such as San Diego, Denver, and Baltimore, have banned new billboards, while Orlando has ordered all billboards removed by 2007. The states of Vermont, Maine, Alaska, and Hawaii, already prohibit them. The federal government, at the urging of Lady Bird Johnson, the former First Lady, banned them years ago from alongside interstate highways. So there is no reason municipalities cannot get tough as well.

Council should stand up to the special interests and do the right thing for all citizens, which is to make Toledo a better-looking city in which to live.

Just in case there's any doubt, we'll be taking names and keeping a list of who votes how on this crucial issue. Half of council will be up for re-election in less than two years, and Toledoans who recognize that pollution comes in many forms will remember who stood up and who wimped out.

Mayor Jack Ford says he wants to make Toledo an “elegant city.” We know an excellent way to start.



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