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Residents worried about digital billboards popping up across the District continue to balk at pending legislation that would allow the signs on the exterior of Nationals Park, and today implored local lawmakers not to green-light the bill.
After a D.C. Council subcommittee advanced the legislation last month, the bill contained new provisions on rules for electronic signage in so-called “designated entertainment areas,” like the baseball stadium and Verizon Center, which has featured flashing screens on its façade since 2013. As the current legislation heads to a full vote expected Tuesday, groups including The Committee of 100 on the Federal City, the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, and the Kalorama Citizens Association argue in a letter to councilmembers that the bill has broadened beyond its initial intent.
“It is not what the subcommittee heard comments on” Nov. 14, they write. The “principal effect [of the revised bill] is to enable the widespread proliferation of digital and other forms of billboard technology, beginning immediately with two large areas in Southeast, and thereafter throughout the city in any area of any size selected for this purpose by the mayor…We strongly urge you, as an essential next step, either to shrink the legislation back down to its original subject—proposed digital billboards on the Nats stadium and its garages—or pull it from consideration.”
In addition, the groups are asking the District to “conduct an independent study” on how such billboards at Gallery Place affect surrounding property values and “the experience of residents, office workers,” and landlords in the area. They also want officials to look at urban electronic signage across the country. Four states now ban billboards.
The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has been comprehensively reviewing the District’s regulations on all signage during the past five years, and backers of the legislation say the bill is designed to establish a “framework” for newer technology. In the proposal, the Nats asked to get the billboards up in advance of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game that will take place in D.C. in 2018.
The latest version of the bill proposes five electronic signs at Nats Park, and imposes limitations on the size, brightness, location, and other aspects of the screens. Proponents of the bill have said they would like to see a tax or community benefits associated with any new billboards.
A majority of the council has previously supported the legislation, though At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman voted against the bill in committee citing unintended consequences and unanswered questions. It could be amended.