Victoria City Council rejects proposed billboard moratorium

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Billboards are fair game in Victoria - at least for now.

A proposed 120-day moratorium on billboard permits within city limits failed Tuesday night in the City Council's 5-2 vote.

Councilmen Paul Polasek and Tom Halepaska made the motion and gave the second. However, both voted no, along with council members Emett Alvarez, David Hagan and Josephine Soliz.

Since the planning commission recommended placing a moratorium on billboard permits, the city has seen a surge of businesses submitting applications.

Polasek tried to shorten the moratorium to 90 days, and Halepaska said he wanted the ordinance to be discussed. Without Halepaska's second, the item died.

"I felt like it didn't do any good to have a moratorium because there have been so many permits pulled," Halepaska said. "What good would a three or four month moratorium do? We're a little late now."

He said the ordinance "overreached," and should have been specific to the historic district.

Since the issue came up in February, the city has seen a 20 percent increase in permit applications, said Jared Mayfield, planning services director. Middleton Outdoor Advertising submitted 13 applications last week, and Lamar Outdoor Advertising submitted three on Tuesday for locations across the city, Mayfield said. One of Lamar's permits is inside an historic district. There are 156 signs throughout the city.

"I wouldn't have expected this many," Mayfield said.

Gary Middleton, owner of the advertising company, did not return a request for comment Tuesday evening.

Alvarez called the surge "self-inflicted."

The ordinance came up too fast, he said. It first addressed the city's historic districts - the Original Townsite, Nine Rivers and Victoria Heights - but then addressed the entire city when presented to the Council.

Before the sign controversy, the city approved nine applications in the past three years, he said.

Mayfield said, regardless of council action, the permits filed before Tuesday's meeting will not be affected.

The council is expected to give a final vote on the ordinance after the planning commission returns another recommendation later this month.

However, eight Victoria residents and planning commissioners urged the council to adopt the moratorium.

Gary Dunnam, Victoria Preservation Inc.'s executive director, said billboards hurt property values.

"I'm not against making money," he said. "I'm against making money at someone else's expense."

Louise Hull Patillo, who serves on the planning commission, said while she advertises for her business on billboards, her support of a moratorium is for the greater good of the city.

"The moratorium would give us some time to figure out which direction we want to go - to be more picturesque or not," she said.

John Kaselus, president of Victoria Preservation Inc., also spoke during Tuesday's meeting.

"I don't have a problem with a business in Victoria making money off advertising," he said. "The historic district is absolutely no place for billboards, particularly electronic billboards. It takes away from historic character of the city."

Councilman Joe Truman, who voted for the moratorium with Mayor Will Armstrong, said he wanted to give the commission 120 days "to come up with a better solution."

"I have full confidence in the people we've appointed to that commission," he said. "I wanted something that was fair and equitable to everyone."

Councilman Hagan said he felt apprehensive about a citywide restriction.

"Within reasonable limits, I feel like people should do with their property as they see fit," he said. "First, it started out as the historic district, then there was talk about making this a citywide ban. This seemed to be moving at lightspeed."

He said if the final result were strictly a moratorium on billboards in historic districts, he might have reconsidered his vote.

"I'd rather kill it here now than see it keep mushrooming into something bigger that I'm not able to support based on my beliefs on property rights," Hagan said.