Amid promises from a billboard executive that billboards would be cleaned up and two older prominent ones removed, the Unified Government Commission tonight passed a revised billboard ordinance allowing electronic billboards.
According to UG officials, changes to the ordinance were under negotiation almost to the start of the meeting.
If it all works as planned, residents will see more electronic billboards on the interstate highways in Wyandotte County, and fewer old-style billboards in Kansas City, Kan.
Commissioner Hal Walker, who led the effort, and Mayor Mark Holland referred to the old billboards in Kansas City, Kan., as “blight.”
The goal was to eliminate some of the older billboards while allowing newer electronic billboards in the community, according to Doug Bach, UG administrator. A ratio was proposed, for every new electronic billboard allowed, older ones had to be eliminated.
A billboard executive who came in from Chicago, Mitch Matson, a vice president of Outfront Media, formerly CBS Outdoor, promised that with the initial construction, older billboards at 18th and Minnesota and at 7th and Central would be removed.
A Kansas City, Mo., representative of Outfront Media said that after the last commission meeting, he looked at the existing billboards of his company, and updated several. Several were converted to a new style. When the weather is warmer, the ones that need painting will be painted, according to the representative.
Bob Fessler, Midwest territory manager for Lamar Advertising, said the two companies had reached an agreement on a ratio of billboards prior to tonight’s meeting. The earlier agreement was 1.5 to 1 on Lamar’s larger signs, and Outdoor would participate at 2 to 1. But there were some new changes he was concerned about. One item was corrected that might have allowed someone else to come in and build another billboard on the site of three old billboards. Then, he wondered about the cap of five digital billboards per company that was raised to seven.
No county has more than six digital billboards in the metropolitan area, he said. If all were built out, there would be 14 digital billboards on the three interstates in Wyandotte County, he said. There will be a lot of digital billboards fairly close together on the interstates, he believes. He asked why the cap was raised from five to seven digital billboards.
According to Bach, the new ratio of 2.5 to 1 and raising the cap to seven would mean the elimination of close to 85 of the older billboards in the city, if all the new ones that could be built were built. With the objective to take down more of the urban billboards by allowing two more digital billboards, the UG would increase the number of billboards taken down, according to Bach.
Mayor Holland said there were 115 billboards in the urban core of Kansas City, Kan., and by raising the cap two, this allows about 85 of them to be eliminated. “We can take out 80 percent of the blight in the community just by raising the cap two billboards,” he said.
“I’m not a big fan of billboards, but I think this is a great compromise for the companies to be able to digitize and for us to reach our objective of getting rid of the urban blight in our area,” Mayor Holland said.
The billboard changes were approved on a 6-0 vote, with three commissioners absent. A second ordinance defining electronic billboards was also passed. However, the ordinance setting occupational fees for those who work in the billboard field was delayed until a future meeting, as the UG attorney said it would need eight votes to pass and there were only six commissioners present.
In other action, several planning and zoning items were passed on the consent agenda, and the animal control ordinance passed 6-0 without further discussion.
At the end of the meeting, Mayor Holland made a statement about his staff member’s involvement in last week’s casino grant funding topic. He said he looked into the situation. He mentioned a statement that Commissioner Ann Murguia had made at the last meeting about issues at a neighborhood meeting.
“I would like to offer assurance that I have confidence that my staff member acted appropriately and that her statements were misconstrued at the meeting,” Mayor Holland said.
He said he would like commissioners to bring issues to him before the meeting to discuss in private.
“It looked to me like, commissioner, that you were looking to bully a member of my staff, and I found that unprofessional and inappropriate,” Mayor Holland said.
He adjourned the meeting, and no further public comments were made.