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Fruscione seeks to lift ban on billboards

City Councilman Sam Fruscione wants to lift the city's prohibition on new billboards, saying it will give local businesses more marketing possibilities.

"It will be kind of like what you see in Niagara Falls, Ontario," said Fruscione. "Right now we're just limiting ourselves."

The resolution to be proposed at tonight's Council meeting would amend the city's codified ordinance to allow five more rooftop billboards in the downtown tourist area, as well as 10 regular and 10 rooftop billboards on properties that front the commercial districts on Pine Avenue or Niagara Falls Boulevard.

The lawmaker did not consult with the Niagara Falls Planning Board, which will release a draft overhaul to the city's zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan in early 2007, and instead used input from members of the year-old Tourism Advisory Board to write the proposed amendment. He says he doesn't think residents will be opposed to more signs because the new billboards will only be allowed in commercial districts.

Fruscione envisions most of the billboards on Route 62 will be posted along Niagara Falls Boulevard. He said the signs on top of buildings downtown won't use land that has the potential for business development, and they won't be allowed to face residential areas. He also stressed that new billboards would have to be "high quality" and have motion or graphics included.

Galeb Rizek, president of the Niagara Falls Boulevard Business Association, was pleased by the news that new billboards could be in the city's future. He had not heard about the proposed amendment until Sunday.

"I think it's a step in the right direction," said Rizek, owner of the Econo Lodge on Niagara Falls Boulevard. "I'm in the process of trying to get a digital sign under my hotel sign right now. I think we need to catch up on a lot of things."

However, Planning Board member Matteo Anello is concerned that residents were not consulted about the possibility.

"It's appropriate to have venues for businesses to advertise, but usually these things come to us and we get together as a group and discuss and look at other communities to see what they have done," said Anello, who had not seen a copy of the proposed amendment. "We've had discussions on this and there's been some resistance against it."

Anello said he owns a building on Pine Avenue that has a billboard on the side, but he supports the prohibition on additional billboards in the city. He said the Planning Board has approved special permits for new stand-alone signs in the past couple of years when a business owner can prove they need the sign and it will be done tastefully.

"If someone wanted one they would have to prove their case to us and that's how I would like it [to continue]," Anello said. "I believe the moratorium is appropriate and if someone had a good case they should present it to us. It's just that they're a blight to the community."

Fruscione and Councilman Lewis Rotella have passed two other amendments to the codified ordinance related to signs this year. In April, moving, flashing and animated signs were made legal, and in July, the Council unanimously approved an amendment allowing billboards to include motion, graphics and to be three-sided.

Although few businesses have taken advantage of these more-relaxed guidelines -- Fruscione could only think of one on Sunday, the new Crowne Plaza Hotel on Third Street has a lighted sign on its roof -- the lawmaker said the city needs to give business owners the option.

"It's all about business. We're just allowing businesses to conduct business," Fruscione said. "It's working in Canada."

e-mail: gfranklin@buffnews.com

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