Thibodaux could be the home of some new, flashier billboards in a few months.

The City Council unanimously approved a new sign ordinance Tuesday that entirely replaces the old code, making way for digital billboards to replace some of the existing, traditional vinyl billboards. Council President Chad Mire was absent from the meeting.

After over an hour of public debate and concerns over the viability of electronic signs, the council voted to adopt the new ordinance but asked the city administration not to issue permits for digital signs for 90 days.

Mayor Tommy Eschete agreed to the terms.

The council hopes the 90-day stall will give time for the city’s sign committee to meet again, with more public input, and discuss possible amendments to the newly approved ordinance.

The new ordinance makes other changes, including the rules for  temporary sign, which signs are allowed in each zoning district and the penalties and enforcement.

Marguerite Knight Erwin, the committee’s chairwoman, said the group’s goal was to make the ordinance easier to understand and to enforce and to “remove some of the clutter we’ve got inside of the city.”

Eschete repeatedly commended the committee for its work, saying the members did the best job possible.

Despite all of the other changes, the addition of digital billboards was the biggest concern for many residents at Tuesday's meeting. Digital signs were not allowed under the previous ordinance.

Under the new rules, companies wishing to put up a digital billboard can only do so if they remove four existing traditional billboards.

All permits for traditional billboards are also now capped. Permits will only be issued to relocate existing signs, not to put up any new ones.

All existing signs will be grandfathered in, meaning they won't have to be changed to conform to the new rules.

Erwin and Brett Moreaux, a committee member and owner of Bayou Signs, said these changes will reduce the number of billboards in the city over time.

There are currently 67 billboards in the city limits. According to the new permit exchange rule, at most, 16 digital signs could be built, Erwin said.

Each digital sign costs around $150,000, Moreaux said.

“We put a lot of time and effort into it,” Moreaux said. “It’s well rounded, and should work for everyone.”

Many city residents asked the council to delay approving the ordinance, however.

John Lafargue, a former member of the city’s historic commission, called parts of the new ordinance “vague,” contained errors and said there should be more restrictions on where the digital billboards can be placed. He and other members of the public asked for a study before any changes are made.

Eschete said the city cannot afford a study, which would cost $80,000, and the committee did a better job than an outside planner would have.

Other members of the public said digital signs would pose safety concerns, and billboards are outdated forms of advertising. Some were concerned that if the digital billboards go up but didn’t work or caused issues, there is no way to remove them.

Councilwoman Constance Johnson was preparing to remove the section of ordinance regarding digital signs as an olive branch to the concerned residents but instead offered the 90-day permit freeze.

The council also unanimously approved several amendments to the proposed ordinance: reinstating separate provisions for the size of political signs between residential and historical properties, and those in commercial or industrial areas; outlining the definition of a sign; including recommendations for the size of a flag relative to the size of the pole; and placing real estate and school spirit signs in a separate section.

Although approved by the council, the new ordinance will not take effect for at least 30 days due to publishing requirements, Eschete said after the meeting.

Staff Writer Julia Arenstam can be reached at 448-7636 or julia.arenstam@houmatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter at @JuliaArenstam.