Battle to Stop Catalyst and BAN the Digital Billboard Continues — Community Has One More Opportunity to Voice Objection, Thursday, July 25, 6 PM

Eleven months in and the digital billboard saga continues …

At the May 30 special meeting of the Zoning Hearing Board, the audience learned after three hours of testimony that the legal proceeding would be continued to July 9.

Unfortunately, as soon as the July 9 date was announced, I knew that I would be on a plane that night – and with nonrefundable tickets there was nothing I could do. For those that have followed along with the BAN the Digital Billboard campaign for the past eleven months, you will appreciate how difficult it was for me not to be in attendance on Tuesday night.

However, the good news is that many people that I know were able to attend and I have received many text messages, emails, phone calls, etc post-meeting making it easier to write this post. And some more good news … the residents will have one more opportunity to make their voices heard at the final Zoning Hearing Board meeting on this matter, Thursday, July 25, 6 PM.  The regular ZHB starts at 7 PM, so that gives us an hour to continue to drive home the point why our community does NOT want a digital billboard!

One of those in attendance at the meeting on Tuesday was my good friend Ray Clark and he kindly provided few written comments from the 3-1/2 hour meeting. (In addition, Ray texted continuous updates throughout the ZHB meeting – so grateful to him!). Here are Ray’s thoughts from the meeting – to others who attended, I welcome your comments:

A few observations from a non-lawyer on Tuesday’s ZHB proceedings hearing the appeal of the denial of a permit for a digital billboard.  The applicant worked hard to focus the discussion on the legal intricacies of their challenge to the validity of the township’s zoning ordinance, while the audience was concerned about the safety and visual impact of placing a distracting, flashing device at a busy and iconic intersection.

A couple of process points.  Dan McLaughlin did a good job of managing the contentious meeting to be fair to all perspectives.  He allowed more residents to apply for standing, since many were prevented from attending round one due to the tornado warning. However, the applicant objected objectionably (!) and arbitrarily to most – at one point saying that he did not believe – with no basis! – one resident who gave a precise distance from his house to the intersection!  I imagine that the ZHB will rule on the standing of all the residents from both meetings at the wrap up meeting on July 25th (6pm).

The witnesses were two: continued testimony from the applicant and Matt Baumann for the township.  I don’t pretend to have followed this closely enough to give an opinion on the legal issues, but there was a lot of discussion about the meaning and applicability of “lighting”, “changeable copy”, “flashing”, “alteration”, “conditional use”, “vinyl wraps”, “backing blocks”, and so on.  Throughout the applicant tried to force the discussion to a word-by-word parsing of the Township denial letter – with some success since Matt acknowledged that the letter had an internal inconsistency.  I don’t recall much discussion of why the ordinance is illegal, maybe that was last time.

The audience seemed to come more prepared than the township Baumann/Verwey team.  Excellent points were made about the lack of applicant studies of intersection safety issues (they relied entirely on PennDoT regulations), the inaccuracy and limitations of the safety studies they did present, the lack of information given to the township to assess the features of the sign, the availability of studies indicating a definite safety issue, and of course the fundamental fact that the sign is DESIGNED to distract attention.

It seems a great pity that commercial interests have the potential to weasel loopholes in township ordinances written at a different time to attempt to foist upon us something that seems to be universally despised and a very real safety risk.

Far from dividing, the digital billboard issue has united the community in its opposition.  I am proud of our residents — they have put lawn signs up, shared information, done their own digital billboard research, attended and spoken out at meetings.  Folks, we have one more opportunity to drive home our message of opposition on Thursday, July 25, 6 PM!  

Always the optimist, I’m going to believe that our Zoning Hearing Board is going to come down on the side of the community on the digital billboard issue.

Your Voice Counts and the Community Matters!

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7 Comments

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  1. Dear Pattye,
    The Good news is that the next meeting on 7/25/19 @ 6PM will allow more residents to give heir personal opinions while sworn in which means it goes on the record which is obviously being built by the Catalyst lawyer for his client in case an appeal to the Common Pleas Court is necessary.

    So, I am a lawyer and this is my take on the 3 and 1/2 hour meeting:
    The ZHB Chair Dan was fair, calm and simply brilliant. He maintained a civil discourse with an eye on the ball. Both sides had opportunities to question the witnesses as well as cross examine the witnesses.

    The main purpose of the hearing is for the applicant to appeal a denial of their application to place a changeable moving copy LED advertising billboard where there is currently a vinyl billboard is on 252 & 30.
    The second purpose is to challenge the $10,000.00 fee. The applicant’s legal argument is that the proposed digital billboard is permitted under the current Tredyffrin ordinance.

    The ordinance, the Zoning Officer’s denial letter, the planning commission’s minutes and the 2004 amendment to the ordinance were used to argue the point that Tredyffrin’s ordinance did not exclude their proposed billboard.

    The definitions of words in the ordinance were read into the record upon cross examination of Mr. Baumann. The applicant’s lawyer pointed out that Mr. Baumann has changed his mind from what it said in his letter to what he testified to in the hearing.

    The Tredyffrin lawyer cross examined the witness for the applicant by questioning his actual position with the company. It appeared he had another job title on Google. This Catalyst witness had previously reviewed all billboards approved in Tredyffrin including the gas station lit sign and the Conestoga High School’s moving sign.

    My take is thank goodness neighbors living within the 1/2 mi. rule attended and their party status was not objected to. And I still think our ZHB will deny the digital bill board based on the fact it is not permitted per the ordinance because it does not fall within the definition of what is permitted. Changeable copy is allowed not Digital moving advertisements that change every six seconds.

    However, Catalyst has deep pockets and will continue to fight. Even so, I believe our panel of lawyers will deny the application in its current form. And yes, even if it moves up to the Court of Common Pleas, I believe the higher Court will uphold the ruling as is because the ZHB did not abuse its discretion nor did it err as a matter of law.

    See you all on 7/25/19. All opinions will be heard and it is so wonderful that so many residents love Tredyffrin! Lesson learned update the ordinance with clear language stopping digital billboards!

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  2. The Board of Supervisors needs to update sign ordinances so we are not compelled to go through this tedious process again.

    George Washington and the troops at Valley Forge endured months in cold and heat to organize the ultimate defeat of the British. We have had to sit through legal proceedings in conditioned comfort to push back the bullying efforts of Catalyst to make us accept digital signs. Press on Regardless!

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Yes! The sign ordinance needs to be updated!

    Catalyst first approached the township last August, 11 months ago, with the idea of the 2 large digital billboards with a reflecting pool (!) at the Rts. 252/30 intersection in Paoli. Although a newly created sign ordinance would not have stopped Catalyst (once they filed the application) from pursuing their quest — what about the other billboards on Rt. 252/Bear Hill Rd and on Lancaster Ave, across from BMW dealer. At any point during this 11 months, another digital billboard seeker could have put an application in to digitize those signs and instead of only fighting Catalyst, the township potentially could have multiple battles. I simply do NOT understand why the sign ordinance has not been reviewed and updated.

    In addition, there has been much discussion about reviewing and updating C-1 property usage. A few years ago, C-1 was changed to permit assisted living usage and we see what has happened. I think it’s time that there was a rollback on C-1.

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  3. FYI… East Whiteland has received a request by Lamarr to replace exist billboards at the railroad bridge on Rt. 30 across from CubeSmart with electronic billboards.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Ugh! If Catalyst prevails with the digital billboard in Tredyffrin Township, digital billboard companies will use the case in other PA municipalities. It is totally clear that residents do not want these blinking signs in their communities, yet here we are …

    [Reply]

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