On a 5-1 vote, the Fresno City Council denied a request Thursday for a height variance for a proposed digital billboard along Highway 41.
Outfront Media sought to elevate the billboard to 86 feet high on city-owned land in the vicinity of Kaiser Permanente hospital.
With the vote, the billboard’s maximum height would be 60 feet.
Council President Paul Caprioglio cast the lone vote against denying the variance. Councilmember Esmeralda Soria abstained, saying she wanted more time to decide.
Trent Suntrapak of Outfront told council it was a “distinct possibility” they may not build if they didn’t receive the variance. The company also promised to remove 10 stationary billboards around town if the 86-foot digital billboard was approved.
A proposed digital billboard overlooking Highway 41 between Herndon Avenue and Friant Road rests in the hands of the Fresno City Council this Thursday.
And the council’s decision could reap the city an extra $3 million over 25 years.
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But, there is a hangup over how high the billboard stands.
The message from the billboard company — anything less than 86 feet — “would not be marketable.”
The problem is that city code limits billboards to 60 feet. If Outfront Media wants to move forward with the project, it needs a waiver (called a variance) from the city. While the Planning Commission granted the variance on Oct. 2, the councilman for the area — Garry Bredefeld — appealed the decision.
The billboard would be placed on a plot of city-owned land on Howard Street, next to Highway 41. Medical offices, including the Kaiser Permanente hospital, and a hotel, surround the ara.
Trees, Cell Towers in the Way
In documents to the city, Outfront said a higher sign is needed because things like telecommunication towers and trees would be in the way.
“The injury of this variance denial is substantial,” an Outfront representative wrote to the Planning Commission.
City staff determined that such obstacles only obstruct a 60-foot sign by 2%. Outfront countered that even such a blockage would reduce revenues by 50%, “endangering the economic feasibility of the sign project.”
Outfront also says the variance should be approved by the council, noting a similar digital billboard by the Manchester Center, on Shields Avenue overlooking Highway 41, is 85 feet tall. Outfront calculates it would earn $9.3 million over 25 years with a 60-foot billboard; an 86-foot billboard over 25 years would generate $18.6 million.
The city’s share of the billboard rent and revenue with a 60-foot sign would be $3.5 million over 25 years; an 86-foot sign would yield $6.5 million in the same time frame.
Bredefeld, Hotel Object
The neighboring Hyatt Place Fresno hotel objected during the Planning Commission meeting. Representatives expressed concern that the sign might be too bright for its guests.
Bredefeld filed an appeal, saying that the variance does not meet municipal code standards.
“This will be a source of blight to raise it to 86 feet,” Bredefeld told GV Wire. “I’m confident if an 86-foot billboard went up, people will be unhappy.”
The full council is scheduled to hear the item on Thursday at 10:10 a.m.
“I am supportive of any business. But, you have to balance that with these billboards being so large. Many people feel it would become visual blight. My job is to find that balance,” Bredefeld said.