Bill that would geographically expand an ordinance allowing for relocation of billboards condemned for I-95 project heads to council

A bill that would expand the ordinance allowing billboards and other structures that have been condemned to make way for I-95 expansion to be replaced without going through the usual approval process was passed out of City Council’s Rules Committee Tuesday.

When council passed the original bill last June, the bill did not apply north of Allegheny Avenue, because then-District 6 councilwoman Joan Krajewski said her constituents opposed the bill and she pushed for the removal of her district. The original ordinance was introduced by former First District Councilman Frank DiCicco.

Krajewski’s successor, District 6 Councilman Bobby Henon, introduced the amendment that would geographically expand the ordinance to include the portion of District 6 through which I-95 construction is planned, from Allegheny Avenue north to Rhawn Street.

Industry attorney Alan Kessler said six billboards have been condemned in District 6, and of those, four could be relocated under the restrictions outlined in the I-95 condemnation corridor legislation, if it is expanded.

“It doesn’t create anything new, it doesn’t do anything tricky, it simply preserves the status quo,” and that helps preserve jobs and tax revenue in the city, said Kessler.

None of the relocated billboards would be in residential areas, said another attorney, George Kroculick.

Opponents who came to the hearing, including Tacony Civic Association President Mary Benussi and Scenic Philadelphia, the anti-blight and generally anti-billboard organization, said if the legislation was guaranteed to impact only these billboards, they would not have an issue.

The concern, they said, is that PennDOT may need to condemn more billboards in the future. Because there are two portions of the I-95 project for which design is not completed, “there is no way to know how many billboards this bill actually covers,” said Scenic Philadelphia attorney Stephanie Kindt.

Tacony Civic President Benussi told the committee that her association voted to oppose the bill, because questions remained on the impact it would have on her neighborhood and others. Besides uncertainty about the potential for additional billboards that would be covered down the road, she said Tacony would like to know how long this legislation will apply. She said rather than this legislation, it would be better to require billboard companies to get zoning waivers for each individual billboard so that pros and cons of each decision could be weighed.

Kessler said the Zoning Board of Adjustment is already over-burdened, and the law makes the process more efficient.

Henon told Scenic Philadelphia he appreciated its dedication, but was not pleased that billboards pictured in the materials that were handed out were not actually billboards in his district. Kindt said they were used for “illustrative” purposes.

Kroculick said that representatives from three major billboard companies, PennDOT and the city law department worked on the version of the bill that passed last year. Work began at the urging of then-governor Ed Rendell, who was concerned about the loss of the billboards and other structures, he said.

Kindt said the committee should be careful about endorsing the expansion of a bill that is being questioned.

Scenic America is appealing L&I’s issuance of relocation permits for some billboards south of Allegheny Avenue, where the original ordinance is already in effect. A hearing before the ZBA is set for 2 p.m. Wednesday.

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