Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Despite the opposition of neighbors and civic groups, the D.C. Council advanced legislation that would let the Washington Nationals put up five electronic signs of certain sizes on the façade of Nats Park.

The bill is expected to pass on first reading later today before heading to a final vote on Dec. 20. The latest version preserves the number and location of the billboards green-lighted by a subcommittee in November, but clarifies that any new “designated entertainment area” where such signs could go must receive approval from the council. The change was made after community members voiced concern that bright LED signage could proliferate across the District under the permitting process the legislation lays out. Additionally, an amendment passed Tuesday requires the executive branch to issue a report every 10 years on “the advisability of maintaining” each designated entertainment area in the District, At-Large Councilmember Robert White said.

“There’s no question [that] when we talk about signs, it’s a controversial issue,” said Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, who introduced the bill in October. “I think we’ve come up with language that [the growth of e-billboards] is not the intent. This is trying to be narrowly tailored and focused on the area near the ballpark [with] no intention to create billboards and LEDs in historic Capitol Hill, H Street [NE], or Georgetown.”

At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, a lone wolf against the bill, said despite the “improvements” the council’s committee of the whole made to it, she has “fundamental problems with the legislation.” Neighbors near the stadium and in other locales with “no financial interest in the signs” have opposed them, she noted. Silverman argued that ballpark area residents had “no way of knowing” they would have to live near “giant LED billboards” when they moved there.

Allen said he and White were prepared to move an amendment that would have levied a new 8 percent tax on gross revenue from the electronic signs at Nats Park. But, Allen explained, they decided to hold it “in the spirit of making sure we have everything worked out,” intending to include it in the District’s next budget bill.

“Our action is not to be construed as the council taking any position on any zoning issue, if there is a zoning issue,” Council Chairman Phil Mendelson concluded. The team hopes to install the signs before the 2018 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which the District will host.