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End billboard ban?

An electronic billboard on Fairbanks Avenue and Interstate 4 is one of two LED boards in Winter Park. Maitland may get one.

An electronic billboard on Fairbanks Avenue and Interstate 4 is one of two LED boards in Winter Park. Maitland may get one.

Jenny Andreasson

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Maitland City Council changed its sign code in the 1980s to keep billboards out of the city.

Now City Council is considering changing the code again, this time to allow an electronic billboard on Interstate 4 at the northwest corner of the Victory Church property.

Jerry Pile, a representative for Kevin Anderson of CBS Outdoor Advertising, said residents would “barely” be able to see the structure from Wymore Road.

Pile and other city officials met on Sept. 7 and then again on Oct. 5 to discuss allowing billboards “under certain conditions that offered a benefit to the city.”

According to the proposal, the city would be allotted time on the electronic billboard to advertise city goings-on such as the Farmers Market and special events. They would also have the ability to flash up amber and silver alerts to aid the police department in locating missing people.

‘Big box’

Dick Wells, the city’s community development director, said amending the code to allow billboards is a “substantial undertaking and change of direction in terms of city sign code policy.”

“I would warn that this is a big box that once you open it, there will be a lot in it you didn’t know was really in it,” Councilman Phil Bonus said on Sept. 27.

The city could change the code to develop a corridor for billboards, assistant city attorney Drew Smith said. That way they wouldn’t be allowed anywhere except on I-4.

The billboards can’t be restricted by time, place and manner — a first amendment protection. That means the city couldn’t restrict what was advertised on the billboards.

That frightened one Council member.

“Since we would be treated nicely to use the sign, what happens if before us, there’s something objectionable… we have to look at the whole thing and not just the good stuff,” Councilwoman Bev Reponen said.

History of prohibition

Mayor Doug Kinson urged the Council to look into why billboards were banned in the city in the first place.

“I’d feel more comfortable if billboards were prohibited along I-4,” Kinson said. “If you go back in history, you’ll find out why.”

Reponen said that the city paid to get rid of billboards, but she didn’t remember what the cost was. “I tend to remember it was a little bit cantankerous,” she said.

Maitland senior planner Sara Blanchard said the ordinance prohibiting billboards in the city has been in place since at least the ‘80s. But billboards have gotten into the city through annexations. Then the city has signed agreements that stipulate that their owners take them down once they wear out.

“Most of them have come in through annexation,” she said. Today, there are less than a handful of billboards in Maitland.

Pile said putting an LED billboard on I-4 would not affect the city’s look. “They don’t glow at night,” he said. “You can’t see them two or three miles away. They look like a sign.”

But Kinson said billboards might not mesh well with Maitland’s image.

“If you open that door, I’m concerned that we would create a different impression of Maitland than what residents want.

“I think we should open up and find out what residents think of making such a drastic change to our sign code. It’s not up to five people to make a decision about what would impact the look of our city for many generations.”

But Bonus said residents don’t associate billboards along I-4 with the city they’re in. “That’s not what I think about. It’s just a billboard on I-4. I don’t see the darn things half the time.”

Billboards in Winter Park and Orlando

Maitland’s neighbor to the south, Winter Park, has also prohibited new billboards since the early 1980s, city spokeswoman Clarissa Howard said. There are 12 billboards that were grandfathered in.

The Winter Park City Commission has approved three agreements for new billboards along I-4 in exchange for taking down existing billboards on Fairbanks and Orange Avenues. Two of them are digital, she said.

The digital billboards do not often advertise the city’s events.

“If space allows, they were open to filling in if we had an event,” she said. “Unfortunately, because of the popularity of the boards, there isn’t much ‘fill-in’ time available.”

The city of Orlando passed an ordinance a few months ago that allows new digital billboards in exchange for the removal of four traditional billboards, said Kathy DeVault, international affairs coordinator of Orlando’s Economic Development Department. Orlando has 40 billboards along I-4, but only one is digital so far.

Maitland’s Bonus said digital boards are garnering a lot of interest, and since there’s money in it, the city should investigate.

Councilman Howard Schieferdecker agreed.

“We can restrict it as much as we want (through spacing requirements),” he said. “We won’t become the billboard capital of the world.”