Ordinance to prohibit new billboards clears first hurdle

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

July 3, 2012 at 2:03 a.m.

Victoria's historic homeowners want all eyes on the neighborhoods, not billboards.

Victoria City Council members on Tuesday unanimously approved the first reading of a ban on billboards in the city's three historic districts.

The ordinance amends the city code to prohibit new billboards in the designated districts and requires all private utilities for billboards to be underground.

Existing billboards will remain standing under the measure.

Development Services Director Jared Mayfield presented the council with a 120-day moratorium on billboard permits June 5, but council rejected the measure in a 5-2 vote with Councilman Joe Truman and Mayor Will Armstrong supporting it.

Councilman Emett Alvarez clarified that the ban included commercial corridors within the historic districts along Main, southwest Moody, Navarro and Rio Grande streets.

Since the issue surfaced in February, the city has seen a 20 percent increase in permit applications. Middleton Outdoor Advertising submitted 13 applications the week the moratorium was proposed, and Lamar Outdoor Advertising submitted three. The city has more than 155 billboards.

Councilman Tom Halepaska was absent. The issue is expected to return for final approval at the July 17 meeting.

During the public hearing, four historic homeowners spoke in favor of the ban.

Gary Dunnam, executive director of Victoria Preservation Inc., said although he heard concern "about the destruction of business" caused by a ban on billboards, "many cities have prohibitions and their economies are thriving."

"To many of us, these signs are a distraction and they propose somewhat of a traffic hazard," Dunnam said. "If you begin watching them, you might forget what you need to be doing. I would like to see billboards banned in the historic districts."

Helen Walker, a historic homeowner, said the historic districts are a longtime favorite of hers.

"Victoria County is truly the only place that all six flags have flown over all residential or colonial settlements," she said. "As such, it is a precious commodity. With all that's going on and all the fervor that's available toward improving and continuing to work on letting the world know about our history, I would urge you to ban billboards in historic areas."

However, another Victoria resident said the ban was too exclusive.

Russell Pruitt, a northeast Victoria resident, said he views the ordinance as "separating Victoria."

"This is, to me, separating Victorians from Victoria," Pruitt said. "You're setting up an elite part of Victoria, and I don't think we're ready for it."

He said residents want equal treatment.

"If billboards need to go all over Victoria, so be it," he said. "No billboards throughout Victoria would make more sense than trying to separate a special area."



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