BAN Digital Billboard in Paoli!

Digital billboards, electronic billboards, changeable variable message centers – whatever you call them they are the same thing: a huge safety hazard, motorist distraction and an aesthetic catastrophe.

For many of us, the notion of putting a digital billboard anywhere in the township is ridiculous let alone at the intersection of Rt. 252 and Lancaster Ave. in Paoli! But our Tredyffrin Township supervisors are seriously entertaining a proposal by Catalyst Outdoor to install a large 20 ft. high “TV in the sky” electronic billboard at arguably one of the most congested intersections in the township.

I rewatched the Board of Supervisor meeting from Monday, October 1, paying particular attention to the opening remarks by solicitor Vince Donohue regarding the electronic billboard.  We learned Catalyst Outdoor first approached the township 1-1/2 years ago about constructing a digital “welcome” monument sign at the Clockworks location in Paoli.  According to Donohue, Catalyst CEO Thaddeus Bartkowski stated that Tredyffrin’s “zoning ordinance for outdoor advertising was illegally restrictive” and that as a result, the company was prepared to commence litigation.

The basis for Catalyst’s claim that the township’s outdoor advertising ordinance is illegal is that the “size, height and number of faces” is not consistent on the three township billboards and that restrictions are not enforceable. The three township billboards are located on Bear Hill Road/Rt. 252, Lancaster Avenue across from the BMW dealership and at the intersection of Rt. 252 and Lancaster Ave. in Paoli.

After Catalyst came to the township with its position regarding the illegalities of the outdoor advertising ordinance (as stated by Donohue) the township entered into “certain settlement negotiations” to consider the proposed digital billboard in Paoli. The solicitor further stated that in the upcoming weeks or months, the township may be entertaining a settlement agreement with Catalyst regarding this matter.

My first thought was just “wow”, how is it possible that all this discussion had been going for so long and the community had no idea. I understand that as residents, we do not need to be kept in the loop on every aspect of township business but it appears wholly unfair that something so important — that will forever change the landscape of Paoli, affect safety, demolish a historic Okie house, etc.  — was not mentioned in public until the September 17 Board of Supervisors meeting.

A thirty year lease arrangement was signed in January 2016 between the property owner (Dale E. Nelson) and Catalyst Outdoor Advertising; no large transfer tax windfall coming to the township. (My guess is that the discussion with the township was well underway before the lease was signed!)

To be clear, the township and its residents do not benefit financially from this proposed digital billboard although the community will be ‘gifted’ with occasional free electronic notices.  In my opinion, there is little gain for the township and its residents should this digital billboard be approved by the Board of Supervisors but a lot to be lost.

A disappointing and discouraging situation; as it now appears that the township/Catalyst discussion has been long ongoing. The supervisor discussion is no longer about the appropriateness of a digital sign but rather has advanced to the design features of the “welcome to the township” monument. If this digital billboard is eventually approved, it’s a legacy that that each supervisor will carry forward.

Since writing my last Community Matters blog post, I have received emails and phone calls from residents all opposing the proposed digital billboard. They oppose the billboard for a multitude of reasons, ranging from safety concerns to the possible demolition of an original Okie house. Contrary to what some of the supervisors may want you to believe, I have heard from NO ONE who thinks a digital sign in the middle of Paoli is a good idea. My guess is those 3 or 4 people who expressed support at the last supervisors meeting (including the Del Chevrolet owner), may just be the only township residents in favor of this proposal.

Many have asked what can they do – I have suggested writing to the township supervisors. Here’s the link to the online form:

http://www.tredyffrin.org/Home/Components/Form/Form/22c4b68e8e5e48e98c1bf8b1f141bb5f/163

For those that know their elected officials, send a personal email or make a phone call. Sadly, several people have reported receiving emails from supervisors with remarks such as “the township is afraid of being sued” or “if we don’t agree to the electronic billboard, it could be worse”.  Worse,  how?  Seems to me a 20 ft. high flashing screen is pretty bad!

As for the threat of a lawsuit?  My response is are the residents of Tredyffrin Township supposed to be held hostage by a sign company?  Why should we be forced to live with a dangerous blinking sign that no one wants?

Because there is not yet a signed agreement between the township and Catalyst Outdoor Advertising is there time for the community to loudly ‘Say No to Digital Billboard in Paoli” and have their elected officials listen?

Would a social media campaign opposing the digital billboard have any chance of succeeding? At this point, it is uncertain but I’m willing to try. I had a logo designed, set up a Facebook page, “Ban Digital Billboard in Paoli” and a Change.org petition.  Here are the links:

Facebook Page Link:  Ban Digital Billboard in Paoli

Change.org Petition Link:   Ban Digital Billboard in Paoli

If we are to stand a chance, all those opposing the proposed digital billboard need to send a loud message to our elected officials. 

Contact township supervisors, leave comments on Community Matters, like and follow the Facebook page, sign the Change.org petition and then send the links to everyone you know and ask them to do the same thing!

Contact me at tredyffrincommunitymatters@gmail.com or by phone 610-644-6759 if you have suggestions or questions.

Scenic America, the only national organization that stands up to the powerful multi-billion dollar outdoor advertising industry, can you help us?!

It takes a community to stop a digital billboard!

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35 Comments

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  1. I have light eyes, which are more sensitive to bright lights than brown eyes are. At night, those signs hurt my eyes terribly. I think they are a safety issue, and maybe a health issue. I think that drivers over 55 will be disproportionately hurt by this because our eye muscles are slower to contract and our pupils can’t accommodate to differences in lighting so easily. I would love a sight specialist to weigh in, and maybe the health dept. also.

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  2. Thanks for the information. Let me get this right, are you telling me that the township supervisors have been having discussions with the billboard company for 18 months and the public didn’t know about it until last month? And now they are ready to sign an agreement, how is that possible?

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    Pattye Reply:

    Sandra, yes this discussion between the township and Catalyst Outdoor Advertising has been ongoing for some time. The lease agreement between the property owner and Catalyst CEO Thaddeus Bartkowski was signed in January 2016 and presumably that would not have happened if talks were not already underway with the township. Again, as I stated in the blog post, I don’t think that township residents need to know every detail of township business – but the digital billboard discussion was ongoing for a very long time, and if it happens, could forever more change the township!

    IMO, the handling of the billboard discussion was not handled in an open, transparent way. It’s like the BOS decided to wait until the 11th hour by design — when there was virtually nothing the community could do. Not Fair!

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  3. I live in Berwyn. Wawa tried to put in a store where the goodwill store is. Wawa wanted 12 pumps and building. The foot print of land is smaller than paoli’s wawa. The town found out about last minute. 80 towns people showed up at the town meeting that wawa was having. Business owners showed up along with residents. I was there. Wawa did not put a store there. I suggest residents of Paoli go to meetings and let your voice be heard.

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  4. Whether our ordinance is legal or not is besides the point. Let’s say it is illegal. Or legal. Why this spot. Don’t we have control over where these billboards are to be placed ?
    If it is illegal, make our ordinance legal. Then tell these blackmailers to go to hell.

    This whole thing is disturbing. Good work Pattye! Thank you

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  5. I’m not surprised about the Board of Supervisors – one just does whatever she wants. Just wait until the next one comes in. And the next, and the next . . . .

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  6. Pattye. Does Tredyffrin have any regulations for digital signs? There are townships in Chester County that have regs, East and West Goshen. See this link from the Chester County Planning Commission.

    http://www.chescoplanning.org/MuniCorner/Tools/DigitalSigns.cfm

    My concern is if regulations or guidelines are not put into place, Tredyffrin could turn into a Las Vegas for signage.

    I am still at a loss that there is no check on demolishing legacy buildings.

    So much can happen without the public being aware. Who has the time to watch the Supervisor meetings on the website? Given the lack of newpaper coverage on these matters, all of us are very dependent on you to sound the alarm for specific cases.

    I will send an email to the Board of Supervisors and encourage others to do the same. Keep us posted on how this is going.S

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  7. This is already a dangerous intersection, with too many cars trying to get their way. You MUST expect drivers might try to read the text and gum up the flow of traffic, including causing frequent CRASHES AND ACCIDENTS..

    Additionally, A TACKY billboard is a disgusting way to dominate the “Main Line.”

    DEMAND PEOPLE BEFORE COMMERCIAL PROFIT…..THIS MUST NOT BE APPROVED

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  8. All three billboards in the township have a “conditional use” exemption as shown in 208-131 https://www.ecode360.com/7117408

    The conditional use process is here
    208-117
    https://www.ecode360.com/7117307?highlight=#7117307

    First ZONING – then PLANNING – then the BOS

    That’s how this must work!

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    Pattye Reply:

    Question — doesn’t the conditional use follow the property? Because there’s an existing billboard on the property by way of conditional use, is that why this went directly to the BOS, without going through the Planning Commission and the Zoning Hearing Board. The proposed digital billboard went directly to the BOS and will come back to BOS for the signing of the agreement. It will not pass through planning or zoning and I figured that was because there was an existing conditional use for the property. Any input would be appreciated!

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  9. That is the big question. Best I can find is this…
    208-117 E
    Changes. A use of a building or a lot authorized as a conditional use, either by decision of the Board of Supervisors or by the enactment of or amendment to this chapter, may be changed to a use permitted by right without further approval.

    But I can’t imagine that what is proposed would be considered by ANYONE to be the same use as it is now.

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  10. People vs commercial profit. Well it’s not that black and white.
    Both of your proported sides have to coexist.
    Does Radnor have any billboards ?
    Information would be helpful before corporatists pilloried here

    Is there a law or regulation on the books mandating a certain amount of billboard space ? I’d like to know and why and who would draw up such a reg. And good question attue about conditional use. Even if it exists on current building does it carry forward ? Can it be abrogated ? Who now owns the building and can they object to a billboard ? Just some questions
    From your original post it seems the board is running scared.

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    Pattye Reply:

    Residents have contacted the supervisors to voice opposition and the response has been that the township is afraid of being sued by Catalyst. As far as I know Radnor does not have billboards.

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  11. Pattye,
    You’d be well served to inquire what “certain settlement negotiations” mean and who was involved. The PA Sunshine Law does not allow a quorum of the board to negotiate with a third party such as Catalyst in the dark (executive session) even if it involves potential litigation. It’s possible that only the township solicitor or less than a quorum of the board, rather than a quorum of the board, met with Catalyst in which case the meeting can be in private. However, when the solicitor meets with the board to relay the information, the public is required to be notified, when the executive session occurred and the specific nature of the topic (meaning “settlement talks with Catalyst regarding a possible lawsuit because of a overly restrictive zoning”)

    From The READING EAGLE COMPANY, v. COUNCIL OF the CITY OF READING 1993:
    The trial court granted declaratory judgment and an injunction, ordering that when announcing executive sessions, City Council must spell out in connection with existing litigation the names of the parties, the docket number of the case and the court in which it is filed. In connection with identifiable complaints or threatened litigation, the trial court ordered that City Council must state the nature of the complaint, but not the identity of the complainant

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    Pattye Reply:

    Thanks Keith! I don’t want you to think that I just made up the “certain settlement negotiations” those were the solicitor’s words. I replayed, paused, replayed, paused, etc. the BOS meeting to make sure that I wrote it correctly. You could be correct, that the meetings with Catalyst were primarily with the solicitor and less than a quorum of supervisors. However, until the Sept. 17 meeting, there was never any mention of “settlement talks with Catalyst regarding a possible lawsuit because of a overly restrictive zoning” or anything similar stated at any supervisors meeting. Frankly, when it first surfaced on Sept. 17, I was thinking that this must be some “pie in the sky” idea that would just go away — it wasn’t until it came back at last week’s BOS meeting, did I realize the significance of the situation. The fact that this discussion has been going for over 18 months without the residents knowledge, is beyond the pale! Good to hear from you and again, thank you!

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    Keith Knauss Reply:

    Hi Pattye,
    I understood that “certain settlement negotiations” was in quotes and that was what the solicitor said. At the next meeting ask the solicitor if the supervisors are aware of the Sunshine Law and if they are in compliance. Ask the supervisors if the met with Catalyst and the dates. Ask them the dates they were briefed by their solicitor and if it was done at a regular meeting or an executive session. You might also want to file a right to know request for all documents, meeting agendas and communications relating to the Catalyst situation. I’m not sure what you will get but it will get their attention.

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    Keith Knauss Reply:

    And ask them to list the number of times they met in executive session over the last 18 months, the dates and the specific topics discussed.

  12. Surely the police and/or PennDot have a say where digital billboards can go due to safety concerns? Surely a better place is the one further down the 252 near the baseball field although I would hate to see any in the township.

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    T/E Anonymous Parent Reply:

    Neighbors across from Radbill Field would go nuts if that billboard would go digital.

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    Pattye Reply:

    Daylesford Lake and Daylesford Estates fought back in 2010 against Clear Channel over a proposed digital billboard to replace the stationary one at Radbill Field. As a result of opposition and push back from the those residents, Clear Channel withdrew their proposal. However, that is not to say that if Catalyst puts the Disney-like digital sign at the Clockworks location, that could re-open the proposal at Radbill Field. Daylesford residents are on board in opposing the Catalyst proposed digital billboard in Paoli.

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  13. PATTYE,

    If our township solicitor negotiated on behalf of the township without the BoS or even the residents notified; his services should be terminated immediately. If there were BoS members involved, we the residents should know who they are. They should be reprimanded in public at a meeting.
    You’ll recall what happened the last time a “sign company” wanted to erect billboards in the township; they ended up not doing so.
    If we end up losing to Catalyst Outdoor; they should be putting the bloody (I’d like to use a stronger word) sign on route 30 down by PMH coming into township form the west. There’s no need for a sign on a north/south route.
    I’ll be trying to have everyone sign your petition.

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  14. If the BOS allows this project to go forward, I will start a gofundme drive to buy space on this hidious bill board in support of their opposition in the next election.

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  15. Thanks for keeping us informed about this important issue Pattye! The petition to ban has been signed & shared. Hopefully we’ll rally the support to preserve the landscape while mitigating possible fender benders at that busy intersection!

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  16. Catalyst Outdoor has lost MANY times in court when arguing zoning laws are too restrictive.

    https://www.delcotimes.com/news/delaware-county-judge-upholds-springfield-billboard-ban/article_82c7cf39-fce1-53b0-b102-4b05827559ca.html

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    rl4life Reply:

    The zoning board argued the billboard prohibition did not restrict other types of outdoor advertising and was therefore constitutional. But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that a blanket prohibition on billboards cannot pass constitutional muster without legitimate justification.

    The board claimed the prohibition was a legitimate use of the township’s “police powers” in that billboards could create a slew of public safety problems, including distracting drivers along the heavily traveled four-lane section of Baltimore Pike.

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  17. I disagree with installing Billboard anywhere in the township. Dangerous,not architecually appealing
    and not the look Paoli should be striving to achieve. If supervisors are afraid of being sued, they should not be on board. Being intimidated by the threat of a law suit is telling of character.

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  18. This Billboard will be very unsightly and a distraction to drivers.
    I think besides ruining the Paoli Village feel it is a safety issue.
    Lynn Seeburger

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