Appeal of digital billboard conversion permit at 1113 Vine St. continued until 2013

Residents of the Callowhill neighborhood surrounding a billboard at 1113 Vine Street will have to wait at least until next year to find out if their appeal of a permit allowing the sign’s owner to convert it to digital display is successful. A hearing on the digital conversion at the Zoning Board of Adjustment Wednesday afternoon was continued after a contentious and legally befuddling 90 minutes.

The Department of Licenses and Inspections issued a permit for the digital conversion to the sign’s owner on March 30, 2012. Soon after, Stephanie Kindt, an attorney with Scenic Philadelphia (formerly SCRUB), appealed the issuance on behalf of some residents who felt a digital sign face would negatively impact the quality of life in the neighborhood.

The area is zoned for industrial uses, but zoning variances have over the years brought residents into close proximity with the billboard, which has been standing for decades. One resident at Wednesday’s hearing said that the billboard is 95 feet from his loft’s window, and that he wouldn’t have moved into the space if he’d thought the billboard could become digital.

Kindt, along with zoning attorney Paul Boni, have taken up the fight against the digital conversion. For its part, Scenic Philadelphia is opposed to by-right digital conversion generally, and Kindt is involved in several other appeals over the same issue.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Boni and Kindt were opposed by Leslie Gerstein, an attorney for Steen Outdoor Advertising, and Andrew Ross of the City’s Law Department. The legal arguments for and against the issuance of the digital conversion permit were several, though the appellants’ strategy relies on three basic premises: that the existing sign is illegal, that its conversion to digital display is not allowed as a matter of right, and that the Vine Street Special District Controls prohibit it.

No clear argument emerged from the hour-and-a-half of testimony, however, and the hearing ended in continuance. Since the owner does have the permit for the conversion, however, the work can technically be done at any point; the appeal process does not prevent the owner from acting on the permit. Kindt said she does plan to pursue a stop-work order, an injunction, or both to prevent the sign from going digital.

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