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Legislation may pull plug on Salt Lake City’s electronic billboard regulations

SHARE Legislation may pull plug on Salt Lake City’s electronic billboard regulations
A digital billboard is on display on 600 South in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 23, 2011.

A digital billboard is on display on 600 South in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 23, 2011.

Kristin Murphy, Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

A cursory reading of the legislation would indicate it’s aimed at superseding our attempt at creating a local solution to a local problem. – Art Raymond, Becker’s spokesman

SALT LAKE CITY — Mayor Ralph Becker's bid to prevent electronic billboards from popping up throughout Utah's capital city is facing a challenge on Capitol Hill.

Identical bills were introduced in the state Senate and House on Wednesday aimed at preventing Salt Lake City from passing an ordinance that would limit electronic billboards to freeways and likely reduce the number of the large roadside signs in the city.

City officials have been working on an ordinance for more than a year to establish regulations for the conversion of existing billboards to electronic signs. In April, the Salt Lake City Council unanimously supported a moratorium that has prevented any new electronic billboards from going up.

Since then, city officials have been working to determine if, where and how they will be allowed in the city. A vote on the issue was expected next month. But that could change if either SB136 or HB87 becomes law.

"A cursory reading of the legislation would indicate it's aimed at superseding our attempt at creating a local solution to a local problem," said Art Raymond, Becker's spokesman.

The legislation, if approved, would prohibit all Utah municipalities and counties from enacting or enforcing restrictions on billboard owners other than by eminent domain. The bills also state that a municipality may not use eminent domain to prevent a billboard from being upgraded to an electronic sign.

Messages left for the bills' sponsors, Senate Majority Whip Wayne Neiderhauser, R-Sandy, and House Budget Chairman Melvin Brown, R-Coalville, were not returned Thursday.

Reagan Outdoor Advertising, the largest billboard company in Utah, regularly contributes to political campaigns. In 2011, the company gave nearly $89,000 to state and local candidates, including $2,000 to Neiderhauser and $500 to Brown.

City leaders want to keep billboards out of residential areas and boulevards designated as city entries, such as 400 South, 500 South and 600 South. They've proposed to do that by allowing electronic billboard conversions on freeways and highways, but only if sign companies agree to take down another billboard elsewhere.

The only time a sign company wouldn't have to give up a billboard to make an electronic conversion would be if an existing billboard were removed from a residential area. In that case, the billboard could be moved and converted without any extra requirements, according to the ordinance.

The two bills proposed in the 2012 Legislature specifically prohibit any requirements that billboards be forfeited in order to upgrade to an electronic billboard.

There are roughly 145 billboards in Salt Lake City, including six that have been converted to electronic signs, according to city planners. Two of those electronic signs are on 600 South, meaning they would be illegal under the proposed ordinance.

e-mail: jpage@desnews.com