The Issue: A Got Milk?” ad splashed across the side of an eight-story building–new District landscaping? Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. has proposed “Special Signs” legislation, allowing them in commercial/industrial areas of his ward, including along heavily trafficked Rhode Island and New York Avenues NE. Thomas’ bill comes on the heels of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s “Billboard Blight Removal” resolution. Fenty’s bill offers “special signs” permits for industrial areas to billboard owners—including Clear Channel Outdoor—in exchange for the removal of existing billboards in residential areas (those are grandfathered in under ancient signage rules). But special signs “can cover a whole nine-story building if they want to,” says Ann Hargrove, of Scenic DC, a nonprofit geared toward visually enhancing the city. Blight?

No Billboards!: “I’m just mystified,” says resident Sondra Hassan. “I know what billboards look like, and I don’t see any public benefit.” Others would like to see city efforts focused elsewhere: Plans to develop Ward 5 have long been in the making–the Great Streets plan, an arts district–but progress has stalled, says resident Linda Yahr. “Rhode Island Avenue is a main artery out of the city to Maryland,” she says. She complains that, instead of opening businesses where commuters can stop for dry cleaning, wine, and cheese on their way home, D.C. wants to paste up billboards: “How much do we pay these fools to manage our city so badly?”

Talk it Out: “A lot of people are scrambling” to understand the bill, says resident Caroline Petti, who only learned of Thomas’ resolution recently. She believes he has “the best interest of Ward 5” in mind. One plus to leasing signage space on vacant buildings: It’d bring in a lot of money. Thomas says he wants to be sure his ward has clear signage rules, and that he’s giving the community a chance to speak up before Fenty’s bill moves ahead. Thomas’ lets residents decide “what kind of special billboard will be in the neighborhood,” if any at all, he tells City Desk.

What’s Next: “I am currently not opposed” to Fenty’s resolution, Thomas says. The Ward 5 signage measure will be up for community discussion. The D.C. Council’s Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs was to hold a public hearing on the Billboard Blight Removal resolution today.

File photo by Darrow Montgomery

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