Our view: Billboards on city property is a bad idea

December 19, 2013 10:04:18 AM



During Tuesday's city council meeting, Ward 4 councilman Marty Turner proposed a change to the city's signage ordinance to allow the addition of billboards, including large electronic ones, on city rights of way. 


By a unanimous vote, the council formed a committee to study that possibility. Under current law, only businesses are permitted to have signs on their property. 


The idea appears to have originated with Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens earlier this month during the council's retreat. At that time, the possibility of permitting a large electronic sign to be used near a proposed convention center was mentioned. 


Turner believes the idea of such signage is a good idea and should be considered for broader use, mainly because it could mean a lucrative source of income for the city. It is a view that other council members seem to share. 


"If we could get this downtown I think it would be an enhancement to the city with revenues coming in," Mickens said. "I think it would be an asset. It's worth looking into. If we can bring revenues into the city, we need to look into it because we need all the taxes and revenues we can get at this time."  


If this is, indeed, the prevailing view, it suggests a level of desperation that should be a grave concern for city residents. Is the city's need for new revenue so critical that it would ignore the almost universal trend of signage ordinances that have become more, not less, restrictive?  


In almost every case where cities have sought to improve their retail areas, more restrictive signage ordinances have been seen as a necessary component. Visual clutter and inconsistency in signage is considered a detriment to business. 


Interestingly, what the council proposes is the diametric opposite of that widely accepted view.  


Add to that argument the historic/cultural image Columbus is trying to project and you have one more reason not to like this idea.  


While we applaud the council's efforts to find new sources of revenue, we are convinced that allowing signage on city rights of way would exacerbate a problem that already afflicts our retail community and the aesthetics of the city.  


At present, the lack of consistency in retail signage has created an unappealing atmosphere in most of our retail areas. To add city signage to that mix would create even more visual chaos. 


Residents and visitors alike have often commended the city its foresight in preserving the historic nature of its downtown. For that reason, adding electronic signage would be incongruous to the very nature of downtown. What we see in New York's Times Square works because it is unique to Times Square. 


Clearly, the notion to add signage to city property is a short-sighted and counter-productive idea and it should be discarded. 


You don't need a committee to recognize that.