By James David Mitchell
The city’s Board of Appeals moved another step closer to the city’s vision for lower Broadway District Master Plan when it denied two billboard applications at 30 Broadway and 20 Broadway following public hearings on Monday night at city hall.
Board Chairman Joseph DeSisto put it bluntly to Steve Ross, President of Clear Channel Communications and the other applicants for a variance, stating that the vision for lower Broadway doesn’t include the bright lights of LED billboards in the residents’ view, especially the concerned residents of the Charleston Chew Lofts who were in attendance opposing the proposed billboards.
The first of two petitions submitted by Vigor Realty for the removal of the existing static billboard located at 30 Broadway to erect a two-sided, 14 ft. by 48 ft. digital billboard elevated to 57 ft., 20 ft. from a public way; and the removal of two sections of the city ordinance prohibiting lighted signage; as well as height and size restrictions in proximity to a public way.
The applicants, represented by Attorney Anne Vigorino, presented a video to board members DeSisto, Richard Zullo, John Christoforo, and Michael Dantone which was partly narrated by Medford Mayor Michael McGlynn on the positive aspects of the new billboard lighting.
Two residents of the Charleston Chew Lofts and one Broadway resident, who testified in opposition to the billboards, stated that the applications were not the right direction the city should be going in for the residents living on lower Broadway.
“The sign would be shining in our living room windows,” said Nancy Toury, a resident of the lofts. “And this is a safety issue – it would distract drivers.”
Steffen Koury, a lower Broadway resident, told the board that the area around “The Line” has started to improve and that adding billboards is not moving in the right direction the city has been talking about.
Ward Six Councillor Michael McLaughlin spoke in opposition, supporting the residents.
It began with two public last year called by the city a lower Broadway District Master Plan, the first in June 2012 at the Connolly Center; the second in Sept. at the Whittier School, which gathered residents to explore opportunities for lower Broadway’s future. Amongst the proposals were a land use plan, street network, open space and recreation, among the many topics.
Residents felt that hindering of truck traffic, adding more green space as a buffer zone between residential and industry, a possible commuter rail stop, to adding more mixed-use zones would be the difference in the quality of life to the area abutting Boston and the Mystic River.
One resident in attendance felt that adding billboard signs would in fact drive away any potential residential home buyers, and drive property values down.
DeSisto then read a number of emails, notes, and letters in opposition to the applications, citing the planned $50 million apartment development expected to be built next to the Charleston Chew Lofts.
The billboard sign, once owned by the MBTA, were sold to Vigor Realty Management are 2 years into a 25 year lease, according to the attorney.
“The number one thing I realized being up here all these years is unless it affects you as an individual, you really don’t care how it affects others, said DeSisto, addressing the applicants. “Does Mayor McGlynn have a sign like this next to his home? Nothing in the video is even near any residents – only commercial,” he said. “Do you understand their concerns?”
Disagreeing, Michael Merullo of Clear Channel Real Estate stated that the new technology would be an upgrade to the current billboard.
“Does a 50 ft. high billboard facing a $50 million condo and its residents an integral part of a revitalization of a neighborhood?” asked DeSisto.
“I’m a billboard guy,” said Merullo, “You wouldn’t like my answer.”
Following a vote, the applications were unanimously denied.
The second application, submitted by Boston Outdoor Ventures LLC, Vigor Realty Trust II, requested to modify an existing off-premise billboard sign to a digital sign, located nearer to Chemical Lane at 20 Broadway.
Again the residents in attendance spoke in opposition, although Councillor McLaughlin spoke in favor stating that the billboard would not be changing in structure or height and its location would not impact the residents of the lofts.
Representing the applicants, Attorney Richard Lynds stated that his clients would be donating $20,000 as a commitment to the community, reiterating an earlier comment that the state’s study on transportation and safety believes that the brightness of a digital billboard is less or the same as an illuminated board, and that further analysis through the proper channels would be ongoing before the billboard would become digital.
But again the board maintained its stance that adding such illumination to the lower Broadway would be detrimental to the city’s revision of the area.
Holding the city‘s Revitalization study, DeSisto asked, “I don’t see anything in here – or hear anything at the public hearing, that billboards are going to be a wonderful thing. We’re trying to change the Line.”
Again, the board unanimously shot down the application citing neighborhood opposition and concerns over traffic safety and quality of life.