Miami-Dade County

Could Miami Commission vote lead to more murals on state, federal highways?

Miami commissioners are scheduled to vote Thursday on a preliminary agreement that would give the city regulatory control over advertising on state and federal roads within city limits — and could prop up state coffers as well.

The move to take control of the 1965 Highway Beautification Act from the state faces sharp opposition from local activists and legal experts, who already believe the city’s mural operations are unconstitutional. The measure also would require approval from the state transportation department and the Federal Highway Administration.

“In essence [the city] will be regulating themselves,” said Peter Ehrlich, cofounder of Scenic Miami, a group created to oppose visual pollution. “The fear is that there will be many more ads in the future facing highways.”

Despite state regulations, Miami has been following its own, less-stringent rules over murals lining the 27 state and federal roadways within city boundaries. They include South Dixie Highway, Biscayne Boulevard and Interstate 95.

State rules prohibit billboards within 1,500 feet of each other, signs larger than 1,200 square feet, or signs within 660 feet of a highway. The city’s code allows murals as large as 10,000 square feet, and allows them to be with 1,000 feet of each other.

In other matters Thursday, commissioners are expected to vote on a plan to ban metal security screens on stores in the downtown and Coconut Grove business districts, and on whether to retain the city’s red light cameras.

Also on the agenda are votes to accept the mayor’s property tax rate proposal, to spend $240,000 to add beds at local homeless shelters, and to OK developer Craig Robins’ expanded plans for the Design District.

If commissioners approve the mural resolution Thursday, it would be the first time that Florida has worked out a deal to collect revenues from mural fees, an FDOT spokesman said. FDOT would receive 50 percent of future revenues. Miami collected almost $3 million in permit fees and licensing of murals in 2012.

City code now limits the number of murals within Miami to 45. The city has also created a boundary where the murals can be erected that runs roughly from just south of the Miami River to Northeast 79th Street, not far west of I-95 or east of Biscayne Boulevard. It also extends into the Civic Center district.

Commission Chairman Marc Sarnoff, a supporter of the measure, said when he was first elected there were 87 murals within city limits, far more than the 45 now allowed by Miami.

“It was as high as 107 at one point,” said Sarnoff, adding he has no intention of increasing the number of murals from 45.

FDOT spokesman Dick Kane acknowledged the agreement would be the first time his agency has collected revenue from a municipality for road signs. In Tampa, the Tampa Sports Authority has control of signage in a very limited area of the city, he said, but no revenue-sharing agreement.

Barbara Bisno, a former federal prosecutor who cofounded Scenic Miami, recently circulated an email to Miami commissioners urging them to allow the public to speak on Thursday before the vote, and asking that they vote against it.

She is among critics who believe the city has been flouting state and federal sign regulations for years.

“Since when is a long-standing scofflaw trusted to regulate itself? Why would the state expect a previously lawless city to suddenly be so responsible that it should be put in charge? Perhaps because the state will receive a portion of the permit fees?” she asked in the email.