City lights

Published: Tuesday, January 30, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 29, 2007 at 10:29 p.m.

Gainesville fought a long, hard battle years ago to outlaw billboards from its public roads. And for the most part, it was successful.

But technology has brought a new generation of visual clutter in the form of electronic, digital LED (light-emitting diode) signs. And they are popping up in ever-increasing numbers.

A staff report last month warns "that the newly-emerging digital electronic signs may replace billboards as the leading cause of sign-induced visual blight, and that communities which do not act quickly to regulate such signs will not be prepared once the cost of such signs drops and the signs proliferate."

Increasingly, local governments are enacting restrictions on lighted signs in the name of community aesthetics. Initially, City staff recommended a total ban on new electronic signs (with existing ones being grandfathered in). Unfortunately, plan board members, after hearing protests from signmakers and business people, seemed to back away from a ban.

The latest staff report lists a number of options, ranging from a total ban to restrictions on the size and/or light intensity of electronic signs to requiring businesses to obtain a special use permit for them. If the Plan Board won't consider an outright prohibition, it should at least agree to size and other restrictions.

The time to act on this issue is now, not after Gainesville becomes known as a city of garish electronic advertising.

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