Billboards above car repair shop on Regent Street

Mayor Paul Soglin has vetoed a change to Madison's billboard ordinance that would let advertisers relocate signs, such as those above Foreign Car Specialists on Regent Street in Madison.

JOHN HART — State Journal

Mayor Paul Soglin has vetoed an ordinance revision recently approved by the City Council that lets advertisers take down billboards, get credit for the square footage, and erect a billboard of the same size in a different approved location.

The city has had a longstanding ban on new billboards, but council President Chris Schmidt and other supporters of the ordinance change said it was needed to spur redevelopment in areas with billboards, which could be moved to certain areas zoned largely for commercial and industrial use. The revised ordinance would support redevelopment and avoid litigation and costs connected with removing billboards, they said.

Soglin, in a veto message, said he has no problem with “responsible legislation” that lets some billboards that stand in the way of development be removed and replaced if done in a way that doesn’t allow the replacements to continue in perpetuity.

A sign company spokesman was disappointed with the veto and said the mayor’s suggested changes were not workable.

Schmidt said the legislation is practical and responsible, and that he has no intention of changing it.

The council is expected to consider a veto override on Tuesday. An override takes 14 of 20 members.

The so-called “cap and replace” legislation passed by the council on Jan. 6 by a voice vote.

A key amendment that led to final passage was approved by a 14-6 vote.

Soglin said the ordinance revision would only encourage property owners to renew leases with billboard companies, knowing the company would be “bought out” by the city with a new location in a more profitable and visible area.

The new billboard could end up in a place where the council has no say about the decision if the site selected by the billboard company meets legal definitions, he said.

An example on Regent Street illustrates his point, Soglin said. The billboard lease there expires in seven years, he said. Without the cap and replace ordinance revision, the property owner has no incentive to renew the lease because it’s an obstruction to more valuable redevelopment. But with the ordinance change, the property owner can renew the lease knowing the billboard company can be bought out by the city.

“From an environmental and economic standpoint, this is not wise legislation,” Soglin said. “Two simple corrections can lessen the impact — put a time limit on the life of the replacement billboard and allow for council review of it.”

Schmidt called Soglin’s argument bogus and an attempt to appear populist.

“The city doesn’t actually ‘buy out’ anything,” Schmidt said. The billboard companies “get a permit and pay a permit fee. We’re not paying anything to landlords or billboard companies.”

Further, property owners don’t make billboard leasing decisions based on the timing of potential redevelopment, and the ordinance revision supports redevelopment when the timing is right, Schmidt said.

Billboard companies won’t agree to timing limits on replacement billboards, he said.

“Would any other business agree to a condition that they would have to close their doors in a certain number of years from now, without compensation?” asked Chris Eigenberger, manager at Adams Signs.

As for Soglin’s suggestion of a “simple correction” in the law to allow the council to review placement of signs, Eigenberger noted that there are “tons of conditions already.”

State Journal reporter George Hesselberg contributed to this report.

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Dean Mosiman covers Madison city government for the Wisconsin State Journal.