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Five new digital billboards possible in Akron

9/27/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

Conditional-use requests before Council; old billboards would be removed

DOWNTOWN AKRON — While members of the local business and law enforcement communities extolled the helpfulness of digital billboards, representatives of the Akron Garden Club and Scenic Ohio, as well as other city residents, voiced opposition during public hearings Sept. 24.

Akron City Council is taking under consideration Clear Channel’s request for 12-by-24-feet digital billboards to be placed at 1827 Copley Road in West Akron, as well as at 884 E. Market St., 1419 Brittain Road, 600 N. Main St. and 2010 E. Waterloo Road.

The billboards would display messages that remain static and rotate every eight seconds. In exchange for the erection of the billboards, Clear Channel would remove seven traditional-style billboards.

David Yale, representing Clear Channel, said the billboards help the local business community by providing affordable advertising. He cited studies that conclude there is no increased traffic safety risk related to digital billboards, and he said digital billboards are now found in 450 cities in the United States.

Others in favor of the billboards agreed they provide a helpful medium for local small businesses to advertise, especially in difficult economic times. They also provide a way for law enforcement to broadcast public service messages, such as wanted fugitive alerts and Amber Alerts, proponents said.

“We’ve been able to apprehend the worst of the worst,” said U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott during Council’s Planning Committee meeting.

He said digital billboards work for law enforcement and have made a difference in “saving our children.”

Speaking in opposition, members of the Akron Garden Club argued that beautification is more beneficial to communities than outdoor advertising.

Sherrie Kimberly, of West Akron, president of the club, said, “Billboards are a visual pollution.” She added they violate the spirit of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, they target low-income neighborhoods and that public opinion holds they are intrusive and ugly.

Club member Kathy Keller urged the city to consider alternatives for outdoor advertising.

“We’re all bombarded by digital technology today,” she said.

Scenic Ohio board member Sandra Smith, of West Akron, also shared her opposition to billboards, stating that, while it is difficult to prove, “Without a doubt, digital billboards are distracting.”

A clean environment, she said, is more attractive to businesses and tourists than the advertising provided by digital billboards.

She urged city officials and Council to devote some thought to what the city would look like in the future with the addition of the billboards, saying, “The decision that you make will be forever, because these billboards do not come down.”

Councilwoman Linda Omobien (D-at large) expressed some doubt about the establishment of the digital billboards in the city, saying she is concerned about their placement on city streets — vs. the interstate — where cars are closer together and there are pedestrians.

“The conditions to my mind would be ripe for an accident,” she said.

She added she has concerns about their placement in inner-city neighborhoods.

Planning Committee Chairman Jeff Fusco (D-at large) asked Council members to review the information they received through the public hearings and to observe the proposed locations and consider the matter before he calls for a vote.

The next Akron City Council meeting will take place Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers on the third floor of the Akron Municipal Building, 166 S. High St. Committee meetings are scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. that afternoon, also in Council Chambers.

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