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Bill could endanger Pasco billboard law

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 17, 2002

Pasco County hopes to move fast before the state can tear down its billboard ordinance.

A state transportation bill moving through Tallahassee could gut the county's ordinance, approved in 1999 to prevent road blight from billboards, County Attorney Bob Sumner said.

But Sumner said he wants the commission to move even faster before the state Legislature undoes all the good work of the Pasco ordinance.

Tuesday, the commission plans to hold a public hearing about an amendment to the county's ordinance to make it consistent with the proposed state law. The commission meets at 6:30 p.m. at the Historic Pasco County Courthouse in Dade City.

The state changes remove the county's ability to order billboard owners to take down their billboards unless the county pays them "just compensation," Sumner said.

However, the county's ban on future billboards would remain intact.

"There will be no new ones, but how we deal with existing ordinances will be governed by legislative act," Sumner said.

The state law would remove the county's ability to order billboards taken down if, for instance, they were damaged by a fire or if the owner did not have a sign on it for a certain period of time.

However, if the county does not pass the amendment to make its law consistent with the state, businesses might challenge the local ordinance and then rush to erect new billboards.

"They would be in here putting up signs, digging holes all over the county," Sumner said.

The law, part of a transportation bill sponsored in part by Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala, who represents parts of west Pasco, has already passed the House. The Senate is scheduled to discuss it Monday.

The changes in Tallahassee could benefit Pasco in one sense, assistant county attorney Barb Wilhite said. Advertising companies have sued the county over the billboard ban, and the new state law could end the litigation, she said.

A second and final hearing on Pasco's rewritten billboard ordinance is scheduled for April 2.

-- Staff writer James Thorner contributed to this report.

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