Billboards, Billboards, Billboards

A new set of rules related to reducing the number of billboards in Tacoma is set to be discussed by the Tacoma City Council today.

The proposed rules are being offered City of Tacoma staff as an alternative/addendum to the set of rules that came out of a billboard stakeholder group, and which then went thrpugh the Planning Commission process.

Both sets of rules - the Planning Commission proposal, and the staff add-on - will be the subject of a public hearing before the city council this evening. The Planning Commission proposal has been out for a while, but the staff proposal was only announced last week, and we'll get to hear about it for the first time during study session today - just hours before the public hearing.

There is a packet describing the staff alternative available online, so we have some idea of what the proposed rules entail.

One of the most significant elements introduced by staff is the possibility of a "Special Compliance Agreement." This type of agreement could include commitments for overall reductions and strategic removals of billboards. The intent would be to accelerate negotiations and billboard removal, specifically of those billboards identified as highest priority, and to avoid a costly legal battle with Clear Channel.

Key components identified in the staff plan - overall goals and a more detailed timeline for specific priorities - would be addressed either through the Special Compliance Agreement, or through modifications to the proposed code amendments.

Agreed Removals – Overall Total 

  • 40% overall reduction in nonconforming billboard faces within 5 years 
  • Cap the number of freestanding billboard faces at level reflecting a 20% reduction
  • Cap to total amount of billboard square footage at 100% of the existing amount

Specific Removals – Within 90 Days

  • 100% removal of “junior poster” billboards (72 sq. ft. billboards)
  • 100% removal from residential zones (R-2 and R-4)
  • 100% removal from RCX – Residential-Commercial Mixed-Use zone
  • 100% removal from CONS – Conservation overlay zone
  • 100% removal from C-1 – Neighborhood Commercial zone
  • 100% removal from Shoreline zones

Specific Removals and Modifications – Within 1 Year 

  • 25% removal from NCX – Neighborhood Commercial Mixed-Use zone
  • 40% removal from DR – Downtown Residential zone o 30% removal of City-identified “high-priority removals” (see Attachment “A”)
  • 100% removal of remaining rooftop billboards
  • 50% size reduction for the sign at NE corner of Center & Union

Specific Removals and Modifications – Within 3 Years

  • 60% removal from T – Transitional zone
  • 34% removal from NCX – Neighborhood Commercial Mixed-Use zone
  • 40% removal of City-identified “high priority removals”
  • 20% removal within City-identified “high-concentration areas” - 38th Street (vicinity of 38th & Tacoma Avenue; vicinity of 38th & G); Pacific Avenue (46th – 56th Streets; and 81st – 98th Streets); South Tacoma Way (vicinity of Pine; and 50th – 67th); 6th Avenue (State – Cedar Streets); Tyler Street (50th – 56th Streets); 56th Street (vicinity of 56th & M)
  • All lighted signs brought up to required efficient lighting technology and hours
  • All signs upgraded and painted, as needed

Specific Removals – Within 5 Years

  • 45% removal from NCX – Neighborhood Commercial Mixed-Use zone
  • 60% removal of City-identified “high-priority removals”
  • 33% removal within each City-identified “high-concentration area”

Amortization - Existing amortization, wherein nonconforming billboards have to be brought into code compliance within a specific time frame, would be retained. However (and this seems like a pretty big however), owners covered by a Special Compliance Agreement would not be subject to existing amortization provisions (and when we say "ownerS," Clear Channel is responsible for the lion's share of billboards in Tacoma).

Exchange Program - New billboards would only be allowed through an Exchange Program, whereby new billboards would “spend” credits generated by the removal of existing billboards, based on square footage of the signs. Billboard companies (i.e. Clear Channel) would get credits for 32 billboards already removed, and further removals would increase the number of credits for new signs. The program would incentivize a shift to types and locations viewed as less intrusive:

  • Conversion of freestanding billboards to wall-mounted billboards
  • Removal of nonconforming billboards
  • Removals from sensitive zones and areas, identified “high concentration areas” and “high priority removals”

There's also a kind of "most wanted" list of "high priority removals" based on concerns from the Planning Commission, the Community Working Group, community input, and other factors (zoning, height, size, buffers, dispersal, and design standards). The list is headed up by Billboard #171 at 3729 Tacoma Avenue South, and Billboard #202 at 6th and Union. Both prime examples of the kind of unsightly support structures and sign faces out of scale with their surroundings that Tacoma has been trying to eliminate for more than a decade now. Billboards move up the list based on number of nonconforming characteristics, whether they are in a no-billboard zone, or whether the structure extends over the top of a roof.

Here's the most wanted list: 

  1. BB 171 – 4 faces. 3739 Tacoma Ave S.
  2. BB 202 – 1 face. 3521 6th Ave (6th and Union)
  3. BB 46 – 2 faces. 3539 McKinley Ave. 
  4. BB 197 – 2 faces. 3005 6th Ave. 
  5. BB 208 – 3 faces. 6517 6th Ave. 
  6. BB 55 – 2 faces. 2201 Pacific Ave. 
  7. BB 59 – 3 faces. 2502 Pacific Ave. 
  8. BB 74 – 2 faces. 8031 Pacific Ave. 
  9. BB 231 – 2 faces. 601 South 38th St. 
  10. BB 204 – 2 faces. 3827 6th Ave. 
  11. BB 70 – 2 faces. 5416 Pacific Ave. 
  12. BB 194 – 2 faces. 2402 6th Ave. 
  13. BB 65 – 2 faces. 4620 Pacific Ave
  14. BB 69 – 2 faces. 5409 Pacific Ave. 
  15. BB 135 – 2 faces. 5032 South Tacoma Way
  16. BB 198 1 face (and one on site face). 3022 6th Ave.
  17. BB 192 – 2 faces. 2202 6th Ave.
  18. BB 142 – 2 faces. 6602 South Tacoma Way. 
  19. BB 233 – 2 faces. 3737 South G St. 
  20. BB 102 – 1 face. 125 Puyallup Ave. 
  21. BB 61 – 2 faces. 2712 Pacific Ave. 
  22. BB 32 (large sign) – 1 face. 2711 Jefferson Ave. 

As with the stakeholder group/Planning Commission recommendations, the staff alternative includes elements that would open up other zones around town to new billboards (within the exchange program). There are also proposed adjustments and clarifications to buffering rules and other standards.

Read the full list of proposals here (and find pictures of the most wanted billboards), or tune in to the city council study session at noon today (in person in council chambers, or on TV Tacoma) to hear staff present their proposal to the council. Then come back at 5:30 tonight for the public hearing.

Oh, and tell us what you think about it all right here. Does a Special Compliance Agreement with Clear Channel seem like a good idea? Did your favorite billboard make the most wanted list?

Read more about billboard regulations in Tacoma, and find relevant documents from the City here.

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