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Toronto passes sweeping new billboard rules

Toronto's signage landscape is set to become neater, more regulated - and more profitable for the city.

After days of heated debate, city council passed a sweeping new bylaw regulating billboards Monday, accompanied by a per sign tax expected to bring in close to $11-million once it's fully implemented.

The new rules will restrict the required distance between billboards, as well as the type of electronic or animated signs permitted in certain parts of the city.

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Outdoor advertisers spent months fighting the bylaw and tax, which they argue will cripple the industry. Councillors opposing the tax agreed - councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong called it an unfair "shakedown" of an entire industry. But members city staff say the companies' revenue figures don't add up.

Council took a "fair and reasonable path" in controlling the way private companies use public spaces, while ensuring a portion of their profits go back to Torontonians, Mayor David Miller said after the vote.

The changes are a victory for community organizations that have lobbied for a billboard tax for years, arguing that those profiting off the city's public space should give a little back. Their original desire to have the money earmarked for public art has been postponed until the city hashes out its budget in the coming months. Several councillors suggested dedicating several million dollars to public art initiatives while the city is struggling to deal with a $500-million budgetary hole wouldn't be wise.

But Devon Ostrom, head of Beautiful City - one of the groups leading the billboard tax push - is confident the budget committee will come around.

"We're one step towards to having arts properly funded in this city and we are a huge leap forward in proper enforcement of the city's bylaws," he said.

"Overall it's a huge, thunderous victory for people who want to see a great city. But it's going to take …a few more pokes and prods to get the job done fully."

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