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Proposal would put limits on downtown news racks

Free-standing news racks of different sizes and colors in Lexington's downtown could be replaced by up to just five uniform metal racks contained in 25 standardized corrals.

Urban County Councilman Dick DeCamp introduced a draft ordinance Tuesday that is intended to clean up downtown streets cluttered with news racks that he says also compromise safety because of their prominence on public rights-of-way.

But local publishers are opposed to the tighter regulation, citing First Amendment rights and the added cost of purchasing metal racks, and the proposed permit and news-rack fees.

“If we can't distribute our publications, that's in effect prior restraint,” said Chuck Creacy, publisher of Smiley Pete Publishing, which prints Business Lexington, Chevy Chaser and Southsider Magazine.

The publications should be given an opportunity to self-govern, Creacy said. “An ordinance should be a last-resort option.”

Self-policing doesn't ­really work, particularly when there's already a hodgepodge of racks of various sizes, shapes and colors around the city, said Councilman Jay McChord.

“I would call it a very ugly scar in our downtown when you come up on these rainbows of colors, shapes and sizes,” McChord said. “You've got accessibility issues for handicapped folks; you've got mobility issues.”

The city already has a less-strict news-rack ordinance on the books, but it hasn't been enforced.

The draft ordinance, which received the approval of the council's services committee on Tuesday, would regulate all news racks placed in the public right-of-way.

Racks in the downtown area would be subject to more stringent requirements regarding location, color, size and material of the rack, which must be metal.

The racks must be placed in corrals which would be allowed in 25 locations downtown. The corrals would be furnished by the city.

Publishers with news racks would have to obtain a $200 annual permit from the city.

There would also be a $25 per-rack fee in the downtown area as well as a $25 per-rack installation fee.

The proposed ordinance will be presented to the full council in two to three weeks, after issues such as insurance liability, permit and news-rack fees, and the implementation date are resolved, DeCamp said.

The Herald-Leader prefers for the publications to self-govern their racks, but is comfortable with much of the proposed ordinance, said Mike Turner, the paper's audience acquisition manager and a member of a task force previously formed by DeCamp.

The Herald-Leader opposes the part of the ordinance that requires the color of the racks be consistent with the color of the corral, Turner said. “The color of the racks is part of our brand … Our racks are branded blue, and we want to maintain that brand.”

The Herald-Leader also questions the $25 fee per downtown rack and the $25 fee per downtown rack installation, Turner said.

The per-rack fee should be $10 and there shouldn't be an installation fee, he said.

Purchasing metal racks could also be cost-prohibitive for smaller publishers that want racks in downtown, said Jeff Zaeske, distribution manager for Apartment Finder Magazine.

Metal racks can cost anywhere from $300 to $500 each, Zaeske said. Plastic racks are cheaper, he said.

DeCamp began his push for city regulation of news racks about four years ago, shortly after the new courthouse plaza opened.

DeCamp was having dinner on North Limestone when he looked over at the courthouse and saw a row of 13 news racks, some of which were empty.

“One of the biggest eyesores, in my estimation and in many people's estimation, has been the indiscriminate placing of newspaper racks,” DeCamp said.

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