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City Council to weigh new rules for billboards

Philadelphia could see fewer billboards - but more of the digital variety - under revamped regulations up for a vote next week.

Philadelphia could see fewer billboards - but more of the digital variety - under revamped regulations up for a vote next week.

The changes, slated for a City Council vote Thursday, balance requests from the outdoor advertising industry with those of neighborhood and safe-driving advocates, said City Councilman Bobby Henon, who sponsored the legislation.

Council first proposed a billboard law more than a year ago but both sides raised concerns, leading to this most recent set of revisions.

"I think it's a very good, complementary, bill that everyone has weighed in on," said Henon, who represents the Northeast's Sixth District.

The bill allows companies to convert billboards into digital displays, which are currently prohibited, so long as they also remove two standard billboards.

The companies must also submit an annual inventory of all signs, and adhere to limits on the brightness of the digital displays.

George Kroculick, cochair of Duane Morris' real estate practice group, which represents billboard owner Clear Channel Outdoor, said the amendments include many positives for the billboard industry.

"On behalf of the entire billboard industry, we thank the Council for continuing to work so hard to try to understand the issues the billboard industry faces. We are very grateful to have rules we can understand that put everyone on an even playing field," Kroculick said.

Mary Tracy, president of Scenic Space, a group that advocates for public spaces, called billboards "a burden and a blight to the neighborhoods," but commended the dimmers and the 2-for-1 exchange.

"I think you're never going to please both sides," Tracy said. "But we were really concerned about the brightness of these signs, and it's come down."

Tracy asked the city to create a prioritized list of billboards that need to come down and have the companies remove those first.

"That way, the city doesn't pay the burden of removing old signs," she said.

Tracy estimated that the city has about 1,900 billboards, though city officials could not confirm that number Thursday.

The new regulations also would require companies to pay higher fees, which could bring in an extra $350,000 a year to the city, Henon's office said. A separate ordinance aims to increase the taxes that companies pay by 1 percent.

In exchange, the billboard owners would be able to construct and modify signs without going through the city. They would be able to increase the height of those signs in certain cases if visibility became obstructed.

Additional provisions include limits on height, proximity to residential neighborhoods, and the time between digital display changes. Billboard companies would have to submit an annual inventory of their signs.

856-779-3876 @juliaterruso