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Provo • There will be no new digital billboards in Provo for up to six months.

The Municipal Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to impose a moratorium on electronic billboards, either brand-new signage or older signs converted to digital or video displays. The temporary ban will give the city time to update its sign ordinances to better reflect new technology, Community Development Director Gary McGinn told the council.

"Our city code doesn't define anywhere what electric signage is," McGinn said. "And that is what we are trying to do."

But billboard company representatives said a moratorium would hurt businesses — theirs and their clients' — and possibly infringe on free-speech rights.

"Are they going to create different regulations [for on- and off-premise signs] when they use the same technology and are the same size?" asked Dewey Reagan, president and general manager of Reagan Outdoor Advertising.

He pointed to the electronic signs at the Shops at Riverwoods, which he said are closer to homes than freeway billboards.

The city attempted to pass the ordinance two weeks ago, but tabled it when Reagan warned that the city violated a state law requiring the sign companies to be given advance notice of any change in billboard regulations.

At Tuesday's meetings, representatives of Reagan and Young Electric Sign Co. — also known as YESCO — were at the meeting, urging the council to not pass a moratorium.

Jeffrey Young, YESCO's senior vice president for government affairs, said waiting six months would hurt businesses who depend upon signs to bring in customers. He said the company receives calls every day for signs, and the customers cannot wait six months.

"We supported a code change without a moratorium," Young said. "Instead we got a moratorium."

Mayor John Curtis said the city needs to ensure that signs are put in the right place. He noted that a billboard outside City Center could be converted to a flashing digital sign under the current ordinance, even though it would not be appropriate in the heart of downtown.

Councilman Hal Miller, who joined Councilman Sterling Beck in voting no, said he supported the need for an overhaul. He just didn't think the city should take six months to do it.

"I think we are capable of doing superb work in a short period of time," Miller said.

Curtis said he didn't want planners and the council to sacrifice quality for speed.

Beck wanted the council to table the plan for at least two weeks to better refine the definition of electronic signs, and possibly limit where the moratorium would take effect.

But resident Diane Christensen said electronic billboards could mar the city's efforts to create an attractive entrance along Center Street. Plus, she said the signs could be a dangerous distraction for drivers.

Twitter: @donaldwmeyers

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