Billboard Protection Legislation

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A battle over billboards is heating up at the Capitol in Tallahassee. Billboard companies are pushing legislation that could fine local communities thousands of dollars if they don’t maintain 500-foot “view zones.”

Cities say that could mean trees come down, and you get stuck with the bill.

The State Billboard Association says local governments are breaking the law by allowing trees to grow up in front of billboards, and even planting them in the way.

Charlotte Brand with the Florida Outdoor Advertising Association supports a bill that would charge local governments for the billboard company’s lost revenue if vegetation within 500 feet blocks the sign.

“Their customers rely on that visibility to their customers in order to get their message out to the public, and if that view is blocked, then it’s virtually worthless and not effective.”

The legislation would also let billboard companies raise their signs if large wall-like noise barriers along the road get in the way.

Local governments say a 500-foot view zone might make sense on a highway, but not on a state road through the center of town. Cities could be forced to cut down the very trees they planted to make their streets look nicer.

Kraig Conn works for the Florida League of Cities. He says your average city block is only 400 feet long.

“Essentially what that means is you’re not going to have any trees or any vegetation whatsoever anywhere downtown or pretty much any city road.”

But the billboard folks say their goal isn’t to clear cut trees throughout the state. They just want prevent local governments from planting them in front of the signs to begin with.

The billboard protection legislation passed the House of Representatives last year, but died in the Florida Senate. Environmentalists say they’ll be joining the battle to defeat the bill this year too.