The Community Development approved both Lamar Advertising's site plan for an electronic billboard and a petition to the City Council to change how billboards are presented.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Community Development Board has essentially passed the decision about the installation of an electronic billboard onto the City Council.
On Tuesday, the board gave Lamar Advertising the site plan approval to move forward with installing an electronic billboard at the intersection of East and Elm Streets.
However, the board is also sending a recommendation to the City Council to change the zoning for billboards to require a special permit.
Since that change was publicized before Tuesday's approval, the building permits for all new billboards are frozen until the council renders a decision, according to City Planner C.J. Hoss.
"The site plan was approved but essentially, they can't build the billboard until it is approved or denied," Hoss said.
If the City Council denies the zoning change, that will allow the company to receive the proper building permits with no extra hassle. If the City Council accepts the changes, the company would have to go through the special permit process, which is recommended to have conditions that would be cause for denial.
The City Council is the granting authority for special permits.
Initially, the Community Development Board wanted to make it a condition that all new billboards or off-site signs must be 500 feet away from an intersection or crosswalk. On Tuesday, the board loosened the language to say they are "recommended" to be that far away.
"Let it be evaluated by not only this board but the City Council, as the granting authority, would have the final say," said board member David Hathaway.
The change is that as of now, companies have to meet only some already written conditions to construct the billboard. With those conditions met, the board has little to no authority to deny a proposal on a case-by-case basis. By implementing a special permit process, the City Council has the ability to add or remove conditions as well as outright deny projects.
"Site plan review right now is essentially is additional conditions. It is a by-right use with additional conditions," Hoss said.
With the ability to implement conditions based on the individual applications, the board backed off the requirement of setback from the intersections. If they hadn't, 49 percent of the currently allowed areas — including that of the electronic billboard proposal — would no longer have been allowed. Since, it is "recommended" the council has the authority to deny the permit on that basis as well as approve less of a setback.
Hathaway also questioned if the board could set conditions on how often the electronic billboard changes what is advertised. The state requires no less than every 10 second. But, that is something that would be done in the special permit process.
Lamar's plan is currently approved. But, can only move forward if the council denies the changes to the bylaw or approves the special permit.
Ward 3 City Councilor Nicholas Caccamo continues to oppose the billboard proposed for the intersection of East and Elm Streets.
Matthew Duddy, Lamar's vice president and general manager, provided images of the proposal and video of other billboards they have. The two-sided display will feature not only advertisements but will also serve to provide weather alerts and public safety information, he said.
"It is a community function as well," Duddy said.
The sign is proposed to be 11-feet by 23-feet and change displays every 10 seconds. Duddy said the company has recently made significant investment on its Berkshire County properties.
He said dozens of old billboards have been removed and every still-standing unit was reduced in size. The quality of the billboards have also been improved, he said.
"We've made some significant investments in the community," he said.
There isn't a demand for more billboards, he said, but there is demand for the electronic ones. He said customers see those elsewhere and have been asking for it locally. The East and Elm Street site has been one they've eyed for a number of years for the county's first.
But, approval for the sign continues to be difficult. The board voiced significant safety concerns with the proposal when it was first presented to them in March. And Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo said he had received multiple phone calls from residents worried about it.
At that March meeting, the developers hadn't had sufficient information regarding the proposal and tabled it. A month later, the board began the process to change the zoning.
Billboard Zoning Petition
Billboard Memorandum - May12014
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