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West Hollywood Says the Sunset Strip Doesn't Have Enough Billboards
By Jeff Wattenhofer
April 13, 2017
An iconic roadway deserves more billboards!

City staffers in West Hollywood are concerned the Sunset Strip is losing its edge as a creative advertising mecca-they want to amp up the strip's billboard game.
They're set to propose next week the installation of more than a dozen new billboards on the Sunset Strip over the next 15 years, according to Wehoville, and an increase in the number that are allowed to be digital.
They say they want to, "facilitate a signage environment that is innovative and noteworthy in contrast to the typical signage that can be found along a less iconic urban roadway."
Right now, 89 billboards line the 1.6-mile stretch of Sunset Boulevard, and there are four digital ones tied to new development projects in the pipeline.
The " Sunset Strip Off-Site Signage Policy" would also allow existing billboards to make modifications, such as "changes to size, lighting, site location and height allowances with proven obstructions if they comply with the proposed regulations."
Staffers behind the policy change cite the Sunset Strip's once dominant showcase of creative signage being diminished by innovative advertising found elsewhere in Los Angeles. They claim the proposed change in rules for signs would put the Sunset Strip "once again in the forefront of unique, creative outdoor media."
According to the policy proposal, West Hollywood is anticipating great demand for those 20 digital billboard slots. To account for this, the city is "proposing a series of non-preferential lotteries to award opportunities to install digital billboard faces."
Those looking to build new billboards would enter into developer agreements with the city, so that "digital conversions and new billboards...respond to specific site conditions and city priorities."
The policy establishes seven Billboard Zones that "capture the urban design character" of each area to help determine how many and what types of billboards are appropriate for each zone.

Council Says No More Billboards
By John Castelluccio
April 16, 2017
PEABODY, MA - No more billboards.

If there ever were a plaintive cry from Peabody city councilors, that would be it. Councilors though are trying to ensure that soon becomes a reality.

Two separate motions came from the council earlier this month - the first to have City Solicitor Michael Smerczynski draft language to permanently ban any future billboards from cropping up, and second, for Smerczynski to review the current billboard regulations to remove any loopholes by which advertising companies could add extra screens or make other unwanted alterations.

"I suggest we make the moratorium permanent (and) make it clear that the city will no longer entertain any new applications," said councilor Tom Walsh, referring to a moratorium the council first enacted in 2014 after a proliferation of billboards along the city's stretch of Route 1 and Route 128.

The council is scheduled to take up the matter in committee on April 27.

A number of the signs became highly controversial, none more so than the 70-foot billboard that towered over Lowell Street near I-95 and Route 1. The city finally prevailed on that one in court and Total Outdoor agreed to take it down in exchange for erecting another billboard elsewhere on Route 1.

Walsh's request was initially one motion, but Anne Manning-Martin noted it might be prudent to address alterations separately, and as soon as possible.

"If billboard companies hear that the moratorium is going to be permanent, then they might say, 'Well let's do those double billboards now,'" Manning-Martin said. "They'll get the jump on us."

Councilor Joel Saslaw, who represents Ward 5 where all of these billboards reside, said he's spotted billboard companies doubling up on screens further down Route 1 in Revere, Chelsea and Boston. He doesn't want to see that happen in Peabody too.

"I don't want to relive that meeting we had in executive session," said Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz, referring to a controversial decision made by the former building commissioner.

Commissioner's decision

In 2014, then commissioner Paul Kolodziej had effectively allowed a company to pursue converting a static billboard to digital without going before the council. Billboards are regulated by special permit, which the council controls.

In a written opinion, Kolodziej said Total Outdoor did not need to amend its existing permit or seek a new one. The company had a permit for a billboard yet to be erected at 258 Newbury St., on the southbound side before Lowell Street, but the permit didn't specify a type of sign.

When Sinewitz and the rest of the council learned of this, it sparked an intense furor, the exact details of which only recently came to light when the minutes of meetings held in executive session were finally released.

At the time, Total Outdoor threatened to sue the City Council for civil rights violations if councilors tried to derail a permit from the state Office of Outdoor Advertising.

The company was arguing, according to Smerczynski, that if councilors pursued their latest opposition to one of the company's billboards, it could be construed as demonstrable proof of a vendetta against Total Outdoor.

Total Outdoor said, rather than appealing Kolodziej's decision to the Zoning Board of Appeals first, and then further in court if they weren't satisfied by the ZBA, the council was trying to interfere in a state permit hearing.

Sinewitz, according to the minutes, said he only learned of the situation that August when he received a copy of Kolodziej's written decision, included in a council agenda packet. That was a few days before the deadline expired to appeal to the ZBA.

Instead of filing an appeal, the council voted to send a letter to the state advertising board to say it opposed the conversion and that Total Outdoor needed a new or amended special permit from the city.

That objection was gaining traction with the state, which wanted a fuller explanation of the situation. That's when Smerczynski was notified of the threat of the civil rights case.

The company promised, however, to hold off on filing suit if the council withdrew its objection from the record.

Heated executive session

Harsh criticism flowed freely during an initial executive session that September with councilors and Smerczynski, in which the city's chief legal counsel told them, in blunt terms, they had a losing case.

According to the minutes, he advised them to agree to the terms and withdraw their objection, otherwise they could be held personally liable for damages.

Smerczynski laid out Total Outdoor's argument in detail, telling councilors the special permit language was too vague in describing the types of billboards they had approved.

Further, as elected officials with many years of service, they should have known they had the right to appeal the building commissioner's decision.

Sinewitz and other councilors said they had never done so; they didn't realize that. And, really, there was supposed to be legal counsel to advise them of such things.

The heated argument devolved to who should have known what when, and who was at fault for not taking any action.

On the one hand, councilors argued Smerczynski should have anticipated problems with this and other billboard issues. On the other hand, Smerczynski said he couldn't have anticipated what the council was going to do, or not do.

In this particular case, no one asked him to appear on the matter, he said.

"I would ask that for every hearing we have from now on, on a billboard, that you be present because... This billboard issue is absurd. It's all over the map. All over the map," said Walsh, according to the minutes.

"Whether that's our fault or whoever's fault doesn't really matter, but we need guidance because I'm afraid that every application, no matter what decision we make, is going to end up in court and it's...this is futile," he said.

Ultimately, the council heeded Smerczynski's advice, removing its objection but also informing the state board it was due to legally binding events that prevented councilors from addressing the issue further. They stated it was still their opinion the billboard was only allowed to be static.

A motion to that effect passed 9-1 with Manning-Martin voting no. Mike Garabedian was absent from the meeting.

Following up on that charged session, Mayor Ted Bettencourt met with the council a few weeks later in private to make peace.

Two months after that September meeting, councilors met again with Smerczynski, who informed them the outdoor advertising board now wanted further clarification on their letter. The board approved the static version of the billboard, but was withholding a decision on digital until it heard from the council. The council sent back another letter, simply saying Total Outdoor wasn't authorized for digital.

Meanwhile, Keilty called up Smerczynski to tell him Total Outdoor was reconsidering going digital with that sign.

It turned out that the outdoor advertising board denied the digital permit that December.

Schenectady County Settles Billboard Lawsuit
By Stephen Williams
April 14, 2017
Company claimed signs were illegally taken.
The realignment of Maple Avenue will go forward without the threat of continued litigation over two billboards located in the new right-of-way.

Lamar Central Outdoor LLC and Schenectady County have reached a $37,000 settlement after Lamar, which owned the billboards, sued the county in December.

The lawsuit by the national advertising company accused the county of bad faith negotiations and sought $50,000 compensation, but a court order filed Friday says the parties settled for $37,000, and acknowledgement that four other Lamar billboards along Maple Avenue will not be affected.

The settlement, approved by state Supreme Court Justice Vito C. Caruso of Schenectady, clears the way for the county to remove the twin billboards, which still stand amid the debris of the construction materials, though their final advertisements are now tattered and peeling.

Lamar had contended that the county took the billboards without following proper legal procedures. The billboards are on property the county is taking from Pan Am Railway as part of the road realignment. The county's initial contention was that since Lamar's agreement was with Pan Am, all the county had to do was notify Lamar that its lease was being terminated.

The billboards are in the area where a $1.1 million federally funded project is realigning a 1,900-foot section of Maple Avenue. Work started last year and is expected to resume soon, after being halted for the winter.

The realignment is eliminating a sharp hilltop curve located at the entrance to the Air National Guard Base. County officials said the project will improve road safety by eliminating the curve.

The county initially expected to use eminent domain to get the Pan Am land, but then struck a voluntary deal to buy 6.2 acres, including the billboard location, for $38,600. Lamar said in its initial filings that it was never notified.

Lamar said that the county offered it $25,000 in November 2015 -- an offer that it rejected. Lamar instead sought $82,638, and to have the county pay the costs of relocating the billboard in the same general area. The company said the county ignored those requests.

Subsequently, the county reached its agreement with Pan Am and acquired the land. Last Sept. 23, the county notified Lamar that its lease was being terminated without compensation, leading to the lawsuit a few months later.
Not so fast on that Hollywood-style Pittsburgh sign for Mt. Washington
April 13, 2017
If you keep up with the news in Pittsburgh-as you no doubt do, astute reader of NEXTpittsburgh that you are-you already know that there has been plenty of chatter in recent weeks about a proposal to install a Hollywood-style letter sign that says "Pittsburgh" in place of the garish yellow Sprint banner currently atop Mt. Washington.
Not so fast, says Michael Dawida, executive director of Scenic Pittsburgh and author of the letter to current billboard owners Lamar Advertising that started this whole conversation.
"I'm not wedded to anything," says Dawida. "We were much more nuanced in our approach. I'm open to other ideas and I think that's why the idea took off like it did."
On March 24, Dawida wrote to Lamar Advertising Company's CEO and President asking Lamar to "explore options to donate this property to a worthy nonprofit organization" and suggested that "one possible goal could be to provide the city with an iconic Pittsburgh sign similar to the Hollywood sign in California and maximize the integration into the adjacent Emerald View Park."
"The main issue is getting control of the rusting billboard that has been declared illegal by the city," says Dawida. "I would be fine if it wound up being just part of the park and we knock down the thing and leave it as greenspace."
Dawida says he has yet to receive a reply from Lamar. In response to WESA, who first reported on Scenic Pittsburgh's proposal, Lamar said in a statement "The billboard has been, and continues to be, a legal advertising sign for the past 80 years."
Established in 2010, Scenic Pittsburgh is dedicated exclusively to protecting, preserving and promoting the region's scenic resources.
"Beauty is good for Pittsburgh and we want to inspire more beauty," says Dawida. He called public reaction to his proposal "amazing" and said that 90 percent of the responses were positive.
On February 16, the Zoning Board of Adjustment ruled that the 7,200-square-foot vinyl Sprint sign violates the zoning code. In a press release, Mayor Peduto called the Sprint banner "an embarrassing eyesore" and asked Sprint and Lamar "to step up and do the right thing, remove this illegal sign, and come back to the table to propose a permanent reuse of the historic Mt. Washington sign."
The city has been fining Lamar $1,000 a day for the Sprint advertisement.
Michael Grande, president of the Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation, says that his organization has not had formal discussions regarding the sign nor have they heard directly from Scenic Pittsburgh, but regardless of what happens, they want the community to have a say in the process.
His comments are echoed by Talia Piazza, chair of the Emerald View Park committee of the Mt. Washington CDC:
"We want a community process to happen and for the residents of Mt. Washington and Duquesne Heights to not only have a say in the future development and/or renovation of the site/sign, but also benefit from it."
One idea being floated by MWCDC is a community benefits agreement that could provide income for the park and surrounding neighborhoods.

"We think there is an opportunity for this site to generate some steady and passive revenue that can benefit everyone-our community, the City of Pittsburgh, the region, and Lamar. That's the conversation we'd like to start."