Indianapolis neighborhood groups fighting proposal to allow digital billboards around city

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INDIANAPOLIS — Many neighborhood advocates are fighting a proposal that could allow as many as 75 digital billboards around Indianapolis.

City zoning ordinances currently ban flashing lights and animation on advertising signs, but a city-county council committee voted in favor of changing the rules this month. The full council is scheduled to vote on the plan Monday.

Marjorie Kienle, president of Historic Urban Neighborhoods of Indianapolis, said allowing digital billboards with their frequently changing images could hurt redevelopment efforts in the city.

"You get used to seeing those static billboards that are up for a long time," she told the Indianapolis Business Journal. "When they start changing every eight to 12 seconds, and they are very, very bright, you will start noticing them."

The proposal would allow billboard owners to convert traditional signs to digital formats, permitting up to 25 conversions in the first year after the ban is lifted. That maximum would increase to 75 digital signs over several years.

Michael McKillip, a leader of Midtown Indianapolis, which represents several of the city's north-side neighborhoods, called the signs "visual blight" and said not enough public comment has been sought on the plan.

"We're upset the public input process has been shirked," he told WTHR-TV. "While folks are eating turkey dinners these people are trying to stuff digital billboards into historic neighborhoods."

Trenton Hahn, a spokesman for billboard owners Lamar Companies and Outfront Media, said the company would ask the city-county council to delay its Monday vote "so that we may have additional time to meet with representatives of neighborhood groups to address any concerns they may have."

Hahn said the proposal would allow companies to convert a small percentage of existing billboards into digital signs and require them to remove billboards in other locations.

Clear Channel Indianapolis branch President Brett Beshore said the company would look to remove many smaller billboards, which tend to be in inner-city neighborhoods.

Councilman Joe Simpson said the current billboard ordinance "came out of nowhere" and that he's been inundated with phone calls and emails from opponents.

"It's poison for me right now," he said. "In my community, they're livid."

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