Planning commission says no to bill that would allow a two-sided, non-accessory digital billboard in Pennsport

A legislative proposal that would allow a two-sided digital billboard to replace a conventional billboard that the owner has been told to take down got a thumbs-down from the city planning commission this week.

Zoning bill 110306, introduced by First District Councilman Frank DiCicco late last month, would permit one non-accessory outdoor advertising sign, which could be internally illuminated and have changeable, electronic messages (in other words, a digital billboard) within the area bounded by Moore, Swanson, Morris and Water streets and Columbus Boulevard. 

The property currently hosts a standard billboard that advertises Club Risque on one side and a suburban auto dealer on the other.

Planner Larissa Klevan told the commission that staff was against recommending approval of the proposed bill because the zoning code states that an excessive number of  non-accessory signs contribute to visual clutter and are “a detriment to public safety, hazardous to pedestrians and motorists,” among other reasons.

Klevan said the owner of the sign applied for a non-accessory use variance in 2007, and was turned down by the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The ZBA decision was reversed on appeal in Common Pleas court, then reaffirmed by Commonwealth Court in 2009, she said.

Both of the current signs are accessory signs – in other words, signs advertising something on the property – Klevan said.

The staff attorney for the anti-blight group SCRUB disagreed that the current signs are accessory. She testified that her organization and the neighbors near the sign have been opposed to this on-going issue since 1989.  The on-site presence of the auto place and Club Risque consists of offices in a trailer, she said, and those businesses just got their permits last July.

Both Pennsport Civic and Neighbors Allied for the Best Riverfront sent letters opposing the proposed legislation.

The property owner testified that the city has told him the only word he can have on either side of the sign is “parking,” reflecting the current use of the site. “It can say one word, ‘parking,’ and not anything else,” he said. It can also have an arrow, he said.

The commission told him this was something he needed to work out with L&I.

The bill heads to city council with a negative vote from the PCPC.

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