Caralyst

Proposed digital billboard and demolition of R. Brognard Okie building – Tredyffrin Township, is this progress?

The Trust’s 14th Annual Historic House Tour this past Saturday was a huge success, raising over $30,000 for historic preservation and the completion of the Jones Log Barn as the Living History Center at Duportail. We are grateful to the wonderful historic homeowners for opening their beautiful historic homes to the public … and for the generous individuals and company sponsors who make this annual event possible. (Click here for list of sponsors). We thank the sponsors and homeowners for prioritizing the importance of our local history and its preservation. And to the many volunteers and Trust Board members, I say thank you – including sixteen student docents from Conestoga High School who gave up their Saturday afternoon to help!

With the annual historic house tour in the rear view window, I turned on the township’s Board of Supervisors meeting last night to watch a presentation by Catalyst Outdoor Advertising. Catalyst is proposing the installation of a monument billboard in Paoli to ‘welcome’ people to the township. This proposed large electronic sign (similar to the digital billboard on Rt. 202 in East Goshen) is planned for the corner of the busy intersection at Lancaster Avenue and Rt. 252.

Image result for catalyst billboard chester county, pa

I am not a fan of billboards in general and yes, there is currently a small traditional billboard on that corner by the Septa train overpass. Although the Catalyst presentation was wrapped in landscaping plans for the corner, featuring seasonal plantings and offers to provide free advertising for township announcements, events, etc., there is major revenue for Catalyst in these image-shuffling, highly lucrative digital billboards — bringing in many times over the income of traditional billboards.

When the Catalyst presenter named the types of digital advertisers, car dealers topped the list; making the support from a Del Chevrolet representative in the audience no surprise (the dealership is walking distance of this proposed billboard!) By design, these large 20 ft. high digital signs are intended to be attention getting. Our lives are becoming increasingly digitized – these digital screens are popping up everywhere. Have you ever tried not to watch a flat screen TV mounted in a restaurant or public waiting area?

There was not a large audience at the supervisors meeting and a few people, maybe three or four spoke in support of the digital sign (including the Del Chevrolet representative).  However, one resident brought up exactly what I was thinking as I watched the presentation – safety concerns with the proposed digital sign at one of the busiest intersections in the township!

Although safety concerns were quickly dismissed by the Catalyst representative as not a problem, there are many available accident studies about driver distraction as a result of digital billboards that would counter his position.  These digital billboards are extremely bright and are designed to be visible in bright sunlight. With images rotating every few seconds, this type of signage is designed to be eye-catching (read distracting), and they are.

Perhaps an argument could be made for these “televisions on sticks” on long stretches of highways but please don’t try to sell the residents that Tredyffrin Township needs one as a ‘welcome’ monument to our community – in my opinion, a huge TV screen that plays moving ads by the side of the road does not represent our historic 300-year old township.

Aside from my strong aversion to these large computer generated billboards, I have saved the best for last. To accommodate the installation of this large 20 ft. high billboard, Catalyst will need to demolish the historic Clockworks building that is located on the proposed site.

The Clockworks building was chosen as worthy of protection and was included in Tredyffrin Township’s 2003 Historic Resource Survey. The building dates to 1900 and is built in the Colonial Revival architectural style. Although it is not an 18th century toll house, it was built to replicate a toll house which was originally located on the site. The best part of the story is that the building’s design was by none other than famous American architect R. Brognard Okie. The Clockworks building is a complete Okie house (versus an Okie restoration or addition) and is a prized building by many and meaningful in the architectural development of the township.

Three years ago, many helped fight the battle to save the Covered Wagon Inn, the ‘welcome to the township’ building located on the corner of Old Eagle School and Lancaster Avenue. If you now travel west on Route 30, you enter Tredyffrin Township greeted with the beautifully restored 250-year old inn – representative of our local history.

The proposed ‘welcome to the township’ monument on the opposing side of the township in Paoli does not represent our community’s 300-year history. And members of the Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors, the inclusion of field-stone in the digital billboard design does not replicate the township’s historic roots.  (Look again at the Catalyst billboard photo on Rt. 202 above – does that make you think ‘history’?)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for progress and thoughtful development but do we really need or want digital billboards in our 300-year old township? Remember, there are two other traditional billboards, one on Rt. 252/Bear Hill Road and another on Lancaster Avenue across from the BMW dealership — are they next for digital billboard advertising?

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