Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Billboard ban would be sign of progress

Two years after a billboard the size of Godzilla drew the complaints of neighbors in southwest Toledo, City Council will consider banning what one nonprofit group so beautifully calls litter-on-a-stick.

Toledo with no more billboards?

We should be so lucky.

I welcome the day when there's not a single blonde in black velvet stretched out across the city horizon.

“We have so much clutter,” gripes Tina Skeldon-Wozniak. “So many poles. So many wires. And so much big signage.”

As much as anyone on City Council, she's leading the charge against continued proliferation of what has to be one of the uglier facets of the Toledo landscape.

“We spend money on flower pots, on beautification. You can do all of that that you want, but then you still have too many large signs that give us visual clutter,” she says.

Billboards: Making money for a very few, while the rest of us suffer the visual consequences.

A recent stab at compromise between the billboard types and municipal officials never got much beyond the “thanks for stopping by” phase, but this doesn't surprise Ms. Skeldon-Wozniak.

“This is one of those subjects where a middle ground is very difficult to find. You either feel [billboards] are not right for our city, or you feel you should just let things be.”

Steve Herwat heads the Plan Commission, which last week recommended a ban on all billboard construction.

“I think we certainly need to do something to improve the aesthetics of the community,” says Mr. Herwat, who points out that prohibiting additional billboards is as stern a measure as can be enacted.

“Ohio is one of the few states in the country where you're not allowed to amortize billboards over time,” explains the Plan Commission chief who, when he says “amortize,” means either removing billboards or simply letting them outlive their economic usefulness.

Kind of makes you envy Alaska, where four years ago citizens approved a ballot measure saying that “... it is the intent of the people of Alaska that Alaska shall forever remain free of billboards.”

That puts America's “last frontier” right up there with Vermont, Hawaii, and Maine - all states that, one way or another, rid themselves of all billboards. Five other states, meanwhile, outlaw adding more.

All told, according to the Washington-based organization Scenic America, some 1,000 American communities have banished or reduced litter-on-a-stick.

And we don't need to pull off anything as drastic as Alaska “to do the job,” says Tom Pelikan, Scenic America's director of policy.

“Just look at a highway with billboards,” he says, “and then visualize it without billboards.”

A no-brainer, right?

Not only does the world look better, it means one fewer venue for ever-encroaching commercialization.

Still, even opponents such as Mr. Pelikan give the billboard folks their due.

“They're a creative bunch. In Tampa Bay, they just had to crack down on floating billboards. People had them on barges. You know, you're right on a lake, so it's not inconceivable that someone would try it where you are.”

Roberta de Boer's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays,

and Saturdays. Email her at or call 1-419-724-6086.

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