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Billboard Regulations

City Council Adopted Billboard Ordinance in Late 2017   

On December 12, 2017, the City Council adopted Ordinance No. 28476, amending Chapter 13.06 of the Municipal Code, relating to Zoning, to create a billboard exchange program, allowing installation of new billboard faces in exchange for removing billboard faces, and modifying development standards concerning design, location, landscaping, dispersal, lighting, buffering, height, and alterations of billboards; and adopting permit requirements to establish maximum permissible billboard heights.


The City Council had conducted a public hearing on November 14, 2017, concerning said sign code amendments as well as the draft the settlement agreement proposed by Lamar Advertising.  The City Council had received a briefing on the subject at the October 10, 2017 study session. The Planning Commission had received a similar briefing on October 18, 2017.

City Council put Billboard Regulations Amendments on hold  

At their December 1, 2015 Study Session, the City Council decided to postpone further work on the proposed amendments to the Tacoma Municipal Code’s billboard regulations.  The City Manager recommended this action because none of the alternatives presented meets the clear community goals of providing a significant reduction in the number of billboards, adequately protecting sensitive areas and avoiding continuing legal disputes.  The City will be re-evaluating its options, including enforcement under the current code, and bringing a proposal to the City Council in that regard at some future date.


City Council Study Session Presentation - December 1, 2015 Billboard Regulatory Options - December 1, 2015


City Council Public Hearing on November 17, 2015  

The Council conducted a study session on November 17, 2015, and a public hearing on the same night, concerning the proposed Billboard Regulations as recommended by the Planning Commission and supplemented by a staff alternative.  Posted below are documents relating to the study session and the public hearing:

City Council Study Session Presentation - November 17, 2015
City Council Public Hearing Presentation - November 17, 2015
City Council Public Hearing Notice - November 17, 2015
City Council Resolution No. 39300 Setting the Public Hearing - November 10, 2015
Staff Alternative Packet - November 10, 2015
Planning Commission Recommendation Packet - October 21, 2015

Planning Commission Recommendation 

Following a few months of review, including conducting a public hearing on October 7, 2015, the Planning Commission made its recommendations to the City Council on October 21, 2015, concerning Billboard Regulations. 

Planning Commission Recommendation Packet - October 21, 2015
Compilation of Public Comments on Billboards - October 9, 2015
Public Hearing Notice - October 7, 2015
Public Review Document (including the proposal and relevant information)

Current Initiative

The City is exploring amendments to the special billboards regulations in the Tacoma Municipal Code, Section 13.06.521.M.  The main objective is to continue to reduce the number of billboards in the City and move billboards which adversely impact neighborhoods, protected districts and land uses to more acceptable areas.  This process is part of an effort to successfully end a legal standstill agreement between the City of Tacoma and Clear Channel Outdoor (CCO) regarding the City’s efforts to enforce its billboard regulations.  The amendment process continues with review and recommendations by the Planning Commission, which builds on the City Council endorsed work of the Tacoma Billboard Community Working Group, whose work in included on this page.


Recent History and Where We Are Today

Billboard regulations have been a highly contentious issue in Tacoma for decades. Although the CWG was expressly "not charged with rendering an opinion on current city codes or deliberating whether that code should be enforced," it was necessary for us to understand how Tacoma, its citizens, billboard owners and advertisers arrived at this point. This section of our report summarizes this context with a brief re-cap of recent history and the current billboard situation in Tacoma.


The City’s billboard codes have evolved substantially over time. Whereas we understand from the Planning Department that it is reasonable to assume that nearly all billboards in the City were, at the time they were initially installed, compliant with code, changes over time mean that today, only three of the 311 billboard faces in the City comply with code. The other 308 billboards are considered nonconforming because they are not consistent with the code.


The City first adopted comprehensive billboard regulations in 1988, which sought to limit the number of billboards to those in place in April of that year, ban billboards from all parts of the City excepting Industrial and some commercial zones, and adopt other regulations. That code was significantly revised in 1997, adding provisions that made many more existing billboards nonconforming, and adopting an amortization provision that required nonconforming billboards to be brought into compliance or removed, at the cost of the owner, within ten years. The rationale behind amortization was that the owner of the billboard structure would have been able to fully recoup its capital investment in the structure over the course of a decade. Clear Channel has owned nearly all of the billboards in the City since the early 2000s.


In 2007 when the City sought to enforce the 1997 code amortization provisions, Clear Channel Outdoor sued, leading to a Settlement Agreement in 2010. The Settlement Agreement recognized Clear Channel’s vested rights in its conforming and legally nonconforming signs and relocation permits, and included an exchange program that would allow digital billboards. After community opposition to digital billboards, the City did not pass a digital ordinance as contemplated by the Settlement Agreement, but instead passed the 2011 Code (also referred to in this Report as Current Code) which revived the prior ten-year amortization provision as a way to reduce the number of billboards, the 2011 Code also banned digital billboards, expanded buffer and dispersal requirements, and instituted a number of design requirements. The City then filed a declaratory judgment action asking the Court to declare that the Settlement Agreement was not binding. In response, Clear Channel countersued the City over the 2011 Code, which led to the current Standstill Agreement.


Per the Standstill Agreement, the 2011 Code remains in place, but is not enforced: the 1997 code applies, except the amortization provisions are not enforced. Under the 2011 Code, all but three of the current 311 billboard faces in the City are nonconforming, most for multiple reasons. Nearly 90% of the billboards do not comply with the buffer requirements in the current code.

Billboard Community Working Group (CWG) 

Billboard Web Map and Instructions

  1. Click the Content tab above the legend.
  2. Check the box Additional Layers.
  3. Click the text to expand the three choices.
  4. Use the down arrow icon to adjust Transparency of all three layers.
  5. With the data turned on, any map click will open a popup with information.
  6. Use the Basemap button to change the map background.

View the Billboard Web Map


Tentative Schedule


Date Event
March 24, 2015 City Council - Resolution No. 39145
May - September, 2015 Discussion with Clear Channel
June - September 2015 Community Outreach - Stakeholders, Billboards Community Working Group, Neighborhood Councils, Business District Associations, interested parties
June - August 2015 Planning Commission - Review
August 11, 2015 City Council - Study Session
August 15, 2015 Standstill Agreement - Existing expires but automatically extends
September 16, 2015 Planning Commission - Public Hearing
October 21, 2015 Planning Commission - Recommendation
October 28, 2015  IPS Committee - Recommendation 
November 17, 2015 City Council - Study Session and Public Hearing
November 2015 IPS Committee - Recommendation
December 1, 2015  City Council - Study Session 
December 8, 2015 City Council - First reading of ordinance to adopt amendments
December 15, 2015 City Council - Final reading of ordinance to adopt amendments


Planning Commission Meetings

Meeting Date Documents
September 16, 2015

Planning Commission Review Packet

Planning Commission Handout and Presentation

August 5, 2015

Planning Commission Review Packet

Planning Commission Presentation

July 15 2015 Planning Commission Review Packet
Planning Commission Presentation
June 3, 2015 Planning Commission Review Packet
Planning Commission Presentation


Community Outreach Meetings

July 21, 2015

Community Council

6 PM

Room 16

Tacoma Municipal Building North


July 23, 2015

Cross District Association

8 AM

Room 16

Tacoma Municipal Building North 

Staff Contact

John W. Harrington, Jr.
(253) 279-8950