Victoria council rejects limit on billboards

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

Aug. 21, 2012 at 3:21 a.m.
Updated Aug. 22, 2012 at 3:22 a.m.

Since 2004, billboards have been a hot button issue with the Victoria City Council, and Tuesday night was no exception.

After nearly an hour of discussion and more than half-a-dozen residents' opinions, the council voted 4-2 Tuesday to reject an ordinance that would put a "cap and replace," as well as new space requirements on the billboard industry.

Mayor Will Armstrong said the issue is controversial, and applauded the planning commission for its work.

"The majority of council just isn't ready to be quite that restrictive," Armstrong said.

He voted for the ordinance with Councilman Joe Truman.

"I supported it, but on the other hand, I understand the objections and feel like there were good points made by people who didn't support it," Armstrong said.

He said he hopes the issue will be put to rest.

Garrett Middleton, who owns Middleton Outdoor Advertising, said his six-sign business would suffer by the ordinance.

About 150 more billboards in the city are owned by Lamar Advertising Co.

"I'm a new business in town and I'm trying to do something and create good will with all the organizations in town ...," he said. "I hope you would use good judgment in what ultimately the ordinance is trying to provide."

His father, Gary Middleton, said the ordinance is contrary to "how Texans operate" and would restrict free enterprise and a business' ability to grow.

However, others who spoke said the billboard ordinance can have a positive impact.

Doug Wuest, a Victoria resident, said his concerns have always centered on safety.

"Billboards are nice and they do some good services for our community," he said. "My concern is they're just like, in some form or fashion, cellphones - They draw your eyes off what you need to be doing."

He said he sees many cities moving toward cap and replace, or all out bans, of billboards. The city of Tyler requires two signs to be taken down before a new billboard can go up.

"Seeing our future covered in billboards is not the answer we want to see," he said.

Before the issue failed, Truman made a successful motion to remove the "cap and replace" wording.

"I felt like the distance prohibition would achieve the goals of the planning commission," he said.

Councilman Tom Halepaska voted against the ordinance with councilmen Emett Alvarez, David Hagan and Paul Polasek.

"We revised that thing and revised it, and it kept coming back," Halepaska said.

Polasek has worked on the issue since 2004, as an official on the planning commission.

He called it "the ordinance that just won't go away."

Hagan said while the ordinance addresses public safety concerns, it limits billboards without coming out and saying it.

Meanwhile, Alvarez said he was outright opposed to the proposal.

Whether the issue will come back to council is still unknown. Halepaska said he hopes this is the final vote, but said some aspects still need to be resolved.

Because the commission was not unanimous in their recommendation, he had concerns about supporting it.

"If they couldn't all agree on it, that should give us pause," he said.

The goal is to find a balance of beautifying the city and encouraging business, Halepaska said.

Truman agreed.

"We want a beautiful city, we don't want a lot of billboards, but we don't need to say you can't have any more billboards," he said.

*UPDATE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the billboard ordinance was tabled. It failed.



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