City officials deny appeal, uphold digital billboard code update

Orlando City Council officials denied an appeal by a local business owner who claims changes to the city’s digital billboard ordinance will negatively impact her business.

During Monday’s meeting of the Orlando City Council, commissioners voted unanimously to deny an appeal filed by Rosemary Huffman, who sought to prevent the city from moving forward with proposed changes to the city code that pertain to digital billboards.

Among the changes, Huffman and her representation argued that reducing the required distance between digital billboards from 1,500 to 1,000 feet was not in the best interest of the public. Huffman, who owns a business along East Colonial Drive, suggested that two static billboards near her business could potentially create light pollution.

During an intense discussion that at times saw commissioners dismiss entire positions by the appellant, city staff and council members were adamant that the proposed changes were necessary and beneficial. In their defense, city officials asserted that the billboards next to the appellant’s property, which are both currently static, were not part of the digital exchange and were not scheduled to be changed.

Among the arguments that city staff disputed were whether or not the appellant’s property is located on an arterial road, as well as whether a study purporting a connection between digital billboards and accidents was valid.

That study, which the appellant claimed was conducted in Orlando, showed statistics gathered on billboards positioned along Highway 528 in Orange County.

The city has been addressing its billboards for over two decades.

In 2000, city officials prohibited offsite billboards and billboards citywide.

In 2010, the city established a four-to-one ratio for a digital exchange program where billboard owners can replace pre-existing, static billboards with digital billboards, provided certain criteria are met.

In 2013, the program was expanded to include certain protected view corridors, including downtown and certain roads.

“While I’m not a huge fan of billboards, I do understand that they have a function, and I think that they really belong along arterials,” said Commissioner Patty Sheehan. She indicated that she was in support of decreasing the distance between billboards if it leads to fewer billboards in communities.

“If we can decrease the separation required in order to get more of them out of our neighborhoods, I think that works.”

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