BILLBOARDS - Akron and Cleveland

Submitted by briancummins on Wed, 02/04/2009 - 20:47.

Digital billboard -- Cleveland
Summary information regarding current legislative actions and discussions in Cleveland and Akron with regards to outdoor media advertising and in particular digital billboards.

CLEVELAND - In June 2008 Ordinance No. 945-08 was introduced to amend the City of Cleveland’s Billboard Ordinance, 350.10. That same month, there was an active variance request by Clear Channel (Calendar No. 08-97:, 12510 Triskett Road) to replace an existing static billboard which eventually received approval.

These two issues generated a local interest in Cleveland to take a closer look at the existing legislation.

Clear Channel initiated the request to the City to have the ordinance amended. For their business interests, they would like the law tightened-up so that they do not have to go through the Board of Zoning Appeals process to convert a static billboard to a new digital. The current law states:

"(5) Changeable Copy. The new or reconstructed billboard may incorporate automatic changeable copy only if such copy is limited to a single billboard panel or two back-to-back billboard panels and only if each such panel replaces two or more billboard panels on a single parcel of property or two or more billboard panels on adjacent properties. The replacement billboard panel shall not be larger than any of the billboard panels it is replacing. In the case of a sign utilizing changeable copy, each message shall remain fixed for at least eight (8) seconds.
(350.10 -- Ord. No. 1282-06. Passed 11-27-06, eff. 1-6-07)"

The "two or more" verbiage has posed problems with the lack of clarity regarding how many static billboards should be removed as an equitable exchange.

There has been a great deal of effort and discussion over these past 9-months on the part of active citizens, businesses, non-profits (a CNDC ad-hoc committee & NPI), Clear Channel, Cleveland city Planning Commission and City Council to consider what would be best for an amendment. The discussions have evolved to the point that last week members of the Ad Hoc group sponsored William D. Brinton, Rogers Towers, P.A. to come and speak in Cleveland.

Mr. Brinton is considered an expert in Land Use law and in representing local government interests pertaining to billboard legislation. While in Cleveland last week he met with representatives of Mayor Jackson’s Administration including the Law Department, Planning Commission, City Council and the CNDC Ad-Hoc Committee on Billboards. Additionally, there were two informational meetings conducted at Cinecraft Productions, hosted by Maria Keckan and Neil McCormick, where staff from local community development corporations, several City Council members and others got a chance to hear Bill’s presentation and ask questions.

Currently in Cleveland, Mayor Jackson’s Administration is in the process of reviewing the information discussed from last week’s meeting with Bill Brinton. One strong recommendation that I and others have made is to have the legislation withdrawn that was introduced in June (there is a consensus that the Administration is in control of the legislation now), and have a moratorium put-in place for not allowing any new billboards permit applications so that the City can take adequate time and deliberation to formalize an amended ordinance.

Generally all-sides understand that the existing legislation is lacking and needs to be amended, so a "do nothing" options is not on the table. The only two viable options appear to be to 1) allow more new digital billboards to go up in the City and deal with the details of cleaning up the language; deciding what needs to be regulated (e.g. lighting, distance from residennces or specific districts etc...) and deciding on a more specific ratio of what should be traded, or 2) Place a prohibition on any new billboards in the City. To weigh these options, it is my opinion that the City of Cleveland should first and foremost consider the City’s goals with regards to our Billboard Ordinance.

The existing ordinance was born out of lost litigation as pertaining to billboard content, and there was a great deal of discussion as to allowing digital billboards into the Cleveland market. Many believed and still do that they are a sign of technological progress. But, currently there is a growing awareness in Cleveland and a movement nationally for local government to seek to fulfill two primary goals:

1) reduction of total billboard inventories over the long-term and
2) minimizing the exposure to litigation from the billboard/media companies.

The argument then follows that rather than to “fix” the existing legislation and continue to allow new digitals, the City should move to prohibit them on the basis of the nuisance and blight they cause to our vistas and neighborhoods. In doing so, the city would in fact minimize to the extent possible the exposure to litigation – Brinton explains that prohibitions of new billboards have been upheld by state courts on the basis of safety and aesthetic issues - Legislators and planning officials potentially believe otherwise). And, that overtime through attrition and potential other means the city would see a slow but certain decrease in the number of billboards it has.

The only reason why we would want to continue to allow new digital billboards is the prospect of eliminating more of the old ones sooner (than through attrition or other means). We would in affect per Brinton’s opinion, be increasing our chances of litigation from the industry, and although we would have a chance to eliminate, by formula some of the old billboards we have, we would nonetheless be increasing what many see as an even more serious form of billboard blight.

So the discussions continues in Cleveland for the time being.

In the mean time, there is a movement afoot to initiate a Scenic Cleveland organization that could lobby the City on behalf of those preferring the “Prohibition” option or at least an agreesive replacement formula. If you would like more information on how you can help, please contact Maria Keckan at Maria [at] cinecraft [dot] com. Check out the Main Scenic America site for lots of information from a Pro-Beauty perspective.



AKRON - I’ve not kept up as much on the issue but what I know is that this coming Monday, 2/9/09, the Akron City Council is expected to move on an amendment to their Billboard Ordinance. Per the Akron Beacon Journal writer, Stephanie Warsmith, 1/27/09:

"City Council has again extended its moratorium on legislation focusing on city billboards. A two-week delay was approved by council Monday to allow members more time to research the potential legislation and consider a study on billboards by the U.S. government.

Council is expected to settle the issue at its Feb. 9 meeting.

A neighborhood group contends billboards blight the city and that Akron's billboard laws are not strict enough. Clear Channel Communications, which owns most of Akron's billboards, opposes any changes."

There are reports of approximately 65 active individuals (including the members of the Highland Square Neighborhood Association, residents, businesses and professionals including architects and attorneys etc..) that have expressed concerns about Akron’s amendment. It provides the following, again reported by the Akron Beacon Journal 12/16/08:

  • Decrease the maximum height for new billboards from 50 to 35 feet.
  • Make any new billboards a ''conditional use,'' which means both the planning commission and council would hold public hearings before deciding whether to approve them.
  • Allow billboard companies to improve or modernize existing signs. The updated billboards could not be any larger but could be converted to digital.

It has been confirmed that Akron City Council's Economic Development and Job Creation Committee approved the lelgislative amendment last Monday and it is expected to be approved by their full Council this coming Monday February 9th.




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Ironic photo

JeffS can bring the BC website up to speed.  He will be going to Drupalcon in Washington, D.C.  Talk to him. 

Brian: Followed the original

Brian: Followed the original billboard legislation that Mike White and Pat O'Malley - formerly bitter enemies - helped push through City Council some years ago to the profit of the industry. O'Malley said he was doing it for the public good but when it was done an associate and he made out well.

This is more of the same. So you know that there is dealing going on at the highest levels of city council and the mayor's office.

You would think that the newspaper would be all over this story, especially since as an advertising medium it is taking advertising business away from the newspaper.

I'd suggest that you allow the billboard industry to put up whatever it wants with one restriction, that boards be 10 feet apart. That way they might just destroy themselves by putting up so many boards that the public couldn't see any of them. Sorry to be so flip.


It is important for more citizens to get involved in the billboard discussion.  If that does not happen then the only strong voice that the City Council and the Mayor's administration will hear is the one belonging to the outdoor advertising industry. 

The questions we need to ask ourselves is "What kind of city do we want to live in and and what does that city look like?" 

I'm guessing that no one wants billboards near their own home.  Why is that?  It is because billboards are unattractive blight.  So, given that thought why should billboards be permitted anywhere in our city?

Thanks for the update on the billboard situation in Cleveland, Councilman Cummins.  I look forward to working with other citizens who don't want their city to look like a page that has been ripped out of the yellow pages.

Neil G McCormick SuzieM's

Neil G McCormick

SuzieM's question above, "What kind of city do we want to live in and and what does that city look like?"  is exactly the right question .  It is a future vision question.  In the future I see a more attractive City that is billboard free, like Vermont, Maine, Alaska and Hawaii.

when elected officials change their minds

Remember that former president who couldn't think of any mistakes he'd made? Stuck, stuck in stupidity. The guy got on the plane home and still hadn't realized he may have gone down the wrong path - not one mistake. Obama on the other hand - Daschle, my bad, sorry, won't let that happen again. I kinda like someone who says, ya know, now that I'm looking with a more critical eye, I've changed my mind and now I am better informed AND admant in my stance.

What to make of it when an elected official does more research and changes his mind? On the issue of billboards, it appears that Brian Cummins may have"changed his mind".

Clear Channel accuses Cleveland Councilman Brian Cummins of hypocrisy in billboard beef

Good. I wish more politicians would be open to changing their minds and following through on research.

Thank goodness the BOCC changed their minds about the Breuer Tower for example. There are a few other things I wish they would change their minds about...

Still, did I miss the gist and get the drama instead. What happened besides namecalling? I could care less if some attorney "will be gosh-darned".

Oh... here it is.

Cleveland officials considering halt to new digital billboards

I agree with a ban... let ClearChannel twist in the wind for a while.  Blight is right. We have enough blight, here's some we could do without.


Let ClearChannel go bankrupt

Kick them out of Cleveland.

What a scumbag company - everything about them is a blight on society... a result of stupid, corrupt politicians at the Federal level who ruined radio for all of America.

Good riddance to Sirius/XM too... and that $100 million a year Howard Stern annoyance... the new economy just won't waste the bandwidth or money on crap like that.

Disrupt IT

Bill board legislation

The reason why there are not many other Council members on-board with my, or Chief Warren's suggestions/consideration for a moratorium, is that there has not been that many members involved in the discussions these past 6-months. Councilmembers in general have their hands full in terms of fielding constituent issues, overseeing the Administration, legislative initiatives and project development in the Wards.

Brian--good call on the billboard legislation, but you should be responding to the issues that you say distract your colleagues from this important issue. Instead, it's complete silence.

No updates, no information...what's going on with the NRP project? did have citizens protest this project. Where are the engineering reports to confirm that this is NOT an environmentally unsound development proposal?