Monday, February 26, 2007

Banners visible from outer space

The Department of City Development wants to visually blight up our city by allowing buildings to boast banners that are up to 600 square feet in size, up from the 72 square feet generally allowed now. Last week the Common Council's Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee put the matter on hold.

It's bad enough that DCD wants banners so big they are visible from outer space. DCD also wants to limit permissible speech on those banners, and I wonder if the folks that came up with this particular bad idea have thought of the First Amendment issues. The proposed ordinance, for example, would allow a banner announcement of a building's conversion to condo ownership, but not a banner announcement about a conversion to apartments.

While building renovations could be announced on the banner, announcements of used car sales, strip shows, religious rallies, sporting events, honor roll achievers or free immunizations would not be allowed. Why is the real estate industry given special speech privileges under this ordinance? DCD doesn't explain, but it probably has to do with the real estate industry having pretty good lobbyists.

It's like this: if my neighbor is allowed to hang a 600-square-foot banner from her building, then I'm allowed to hang a 600-square-foot banner from my building of the same size, and DCD has no damned business telling me what that sign can say. If a city agency can regulate building banners, why not window signs in commercial buildings? Why doesn't it also sharply restrict what can be advertised on billboards, or on buses?

Are we ready for DCD Commissioner Rocky Marcoux to be the city's censor?

DCD should really rethink this one. And then kill it.

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