Byline: Peter Braunstein

NEW YORK — Leaders of New York City’s outdoor advertising industry are fuming about a number of zoning changes adopted Tuesday by the City Council that would restrict the size and location of billboard advertising in the city. The new regulations, which await Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s signature, limit the maximum size of signs in manufacturing districts to 1,200 square feet and prohibit signage in residential districts entirely. The legislation also gives teeth to a preexisting city statute prohibiting signage within 200 feet of an arterial highway or public park above one-half acre — which may spell doom for those large billboards along the West Side Highway, as well as those on the Queens side of the midtown tunnel. Times Square signage is exempt from the provisions of the new legislation.
“This is a landmark bill that will preserve New York City’s beautiful skyline and rich character,” said City Council speaker Peter Vallone. “No longer will billboard owners be allowed to make money in the residential streets of New York.” Instead, the city will make money off of noncompliant billboard owners. The new legislation not only gives the Department of Buildings the power to remove noncompliant billboards for the first time ever, but it levies fines of $15,000 for the first offense and $25,000 for additional violations.
The outdoor advertising industry immediately announced that litigation would be filed challenging the Council’s action on the ground that the new regulations violate the First Amendment. “If the City Council’s actions are permitted to stand, the new laws would cause severe injury to both the outdoor advertising industry and the many New York businesses that rely on outdoor advertising, especially in the fashion and retail industries,” said Timothy Stauning, northeast regional president of Eller Media Co., Inc., which along with Infinity Outdoor and Vista Media Group accounts for more than 80 percent of outdoor advertising signage in New York City. Stauning underscored that the new regulations would affect the jobs of some 1,100 unionized sheet metal workers who erect and maintain outdoor billboards, and that billboards along highways in industrial areas — – like those along the West Side Highway — mask urban blight rather than ruin the cityscape.