Billboards raise uproar in Highland Square

“The city of Akron’s recent moratorium on the construction of new billboards has opened some eyes and re-kindled the fire of a decade-long dispute over the use of excessive advertising within city limits. Within the last year, numerous billboards have gone up throughout the city.”

The city of Akron’s recent moratorium on the construction of new billboards has opened some eyes and re-kindled the fire of a decade-long dispute over the use of excessive advertising within city limits.

Within the last year, numerous billboards have gone up throughout the city. Akron has close to 300 billboards already.  J&B Outdoor, a marketing agency based in Fishers, Indiana, holds 13 permits for billboards in Akron (12 have already been built), one of which caused a major stir with residents of Highland Square.

   In mid-July, Highland square residents noticed a shiny, bright-red 40-foot pole three feet in diameter being constructed in front of the Dairy Mart on the corner of Rhodes and West Market Street.  Eventually, they were told that the base of the highway billboard was perfectly legal under Akron zoning laws.  Pete Pappas, the realtor who leased the land to J&B Outdoor, had no comment.

Large billboards, in addition to drawing attention and being aesthetically unpleasant, sharply pull down the property value of the surrounding properties.

Mark Smith lives five properties down from the billboard on Rhodes andserves on the Highland Square Neighborhood Association (HSNA). 

The bigger issue in my mind is not so much the billboards, he said. 

It’s the city.

 According to Smith, the city of Akron used taxpayers’ money to conduct several studies that, if acted upon, would affect billboard placement. 

Unfortunately, many of these studies are thrown right in the trash can.

For instance, in 1992, a task force assembled by Mayor Don Plusquellic recommended several revisions to the city’s signage guidelines.  For eight years, the city did nothing.  Finally, in 2000, a few of the recommendations were enacted: signs had to be 1,000 feet apart (up from 100 feet), extra-large billboards (900 square feet or more) were outlawed, and the downtown was declared billboard-free.

The legislation, though helpful, was simply not enough.  The study had called for a moratorium on new billboards and the removal of some existing ones.

The only reason [the legislation] passed was because it was so watered-down and weak, Smith explained.  At the time of the deliberation at least two of the council people owned billboards.  They voted for the legislation, but they made sure it didn’t have any teeth in it.

Sixteen years after the original study, acting under the pressure from many citizens, Akron finally placed a four-month moratorium on the erection of new billboards.  Not surprisingly, many citizens remain dissatisfied.

The moratorium, which will be in place until the completion of a new tax-funded study, is viewed by some as a way to quiet critics while new watered-down legislation is enacted.  It does not affect the 13 billboards owned by J&B Outdoor.

In the end citizens of Highland Square, including Smith, see little hope in sight.

The billboard lobbyists and the billboard industry are very powerful, and they have a lot of money and lawyers behind them, said Smith.

The only thing residents can do, according to the HSNA, is boycott the products advertised and keep writing to city council.