John Snyder

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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Say NO to Proposed Digital Billboard in Paoli on Tuesday, July 9, 7 PM, Zoning Hearing Board Meeting: Your Voice Counts & Our Community Matters!

The “To be continued … “  digital billboard saga returns to Township Township Zoning Hearing Board meeting on Tuesday, July 9 at 7 PM at the municipal building, 1100 Duportail Road, Berwyn. (Click here for agenda).

This process has been nearly a year in the making, and the legal proceeding was last at the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) meeting on May 30. With tornado warnings and loss of power for many homeowners in the township, it was a challenge just to attend the meeting!

On May 30, we only heard from the Catalyst attorney John Snyder from Saul Ewing and his two witnesses. On Tuesday, July 9, the ZHB meeting continues with attorney Tony Verwey from Gawthrop Greenwood presents the case opposing the digital billboard on behalf of the township.

To remind you about the ZHB meeting on May 30, a number of residents (including myself) asked to be a party in the case — with Snyder objecting to all but one resident. In my opinion, the entire Tredyffrin Township community (and beyond) should have standing in the case, as we all will be impacted by a digital billboard at the busy intersection in Paoli.

To the credit of the ZHB chair Dan McLaughlin (and much to the chagrin of Snyder) the public was told that “standing” would be determined at the July 9 meeting.  And the good news is that ALL residents who wish to comment at the upcoming ZHB meeting may do so, with or without legal standing. It will be curious to see where the legal issue resolves itself for those that previously sought standing and also whether residents who were unable to attend the ZHB meeting in May will be granted standing.

Much of the widespread opposition to the proposed digital sign is focused on safety yet we learned on May 30 that no safety expert would be called by the Catalyst attorney because he didn’t think “it relevant”.   One of the two expert witnesses called by Catalyst was Jesse White, an employee of Watchfire Signs, a Danville, Illinois digital billboard company who sells billboards to Catalyst. In his testimony, White admitted his company would probably have the contract for the proposed digital billboard.  He certainly is not an unbiased witness and the township attorney Tony Verwey needs to object.

Other crazy remarks came from the second Catalyst witness, employee Tim Earle who claimed digital billboards are “almost like a TV” and compared the proposed digital billboard, with its constantly changing face, to the 7-Eleven gas price sign across the street and to the Conestoga High School sign. The so-called expert testimony of Earle should be thoroughly cross-examined by the township attorney. Here’s hoping that Tony Verwey is fully prepared for this legal proceeding against Catalyst – the residents are counting on him to bring his ‘A’ game!

On Tuesday, please show up at the township building for the Zoning Hearing Board Meeting and speak out against the proposed digital billboard – Our Voice Counts and our Community Matters!

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Digital Billboard Appeal to be continued … until July 9

Thank you to those residents who joined me on Wednesday night for the Zoning Hearing Board meeting. With the tornado warnings and loss of power for many, it was a challenge to attend!

There was bad and good news from the meeting. The bad news is that we sat through three hours of testimony and only heard from the Catalyst attorney John Snyder from Saul Ewing and his two witnesses.  The good news is that the Zoning Hearing Board meeting continues on Tuesday, July 9 and we will hear from the township attorney Tony Verwey from Gawthrop Greenwood and all township residents who wish to comment.

Unfortunately Snyder set a bad tone early in the proceedings by objecting to all but one resident who asked for party standing in the case (including myself), claiming that we would not be personally impacted by the proposed digital sign.

My argument to receive standing was that ‘ALL’ the township residents (and beyond) would be impacted (due to safety concerns in that intersection) and therefore should have standing. Needless to say that argument went nowhere with Snyder.  To the credit of Zoning Hearing Board chair Dan McLaughlin (and much to the chagrin of Snyder) we were told that a determination of “standing” would be decided at the meeting on July 9.   All residents who wish to comment may do so at the next meeting (and you do not need standing to do so!).

Linda Stein from Main Line Media News attended the meeting and gave a review of the proposed billboard and update.  (Thank you Linda for braving the tornado warnings to attend!) To read the full article, click here.  Below are excerpts from the article:

Snyder called on Jesse White, an engineer for Watchfire Signs, a Danville, Ill. company that sells digital billboards to Catalyst, to testify. White explained how the proposed LED billboard would work. Questioned by Snyder, White said LED billboards are “almost like a TV.”

Residents who requested to be a party to the case were permitted to ask questions. Paul Drucker asked White if he thought that 10 images a minute would be a distraction for drivers. Snyder objected to the question and Daniel McLaughlin, the zoning board chairman, asked if Snyder planned to call a witness regarding drivers being distracted.

“No, I don’t think it’s relevant,” said Snyder. His response drew laughter and gasps from the audience, many of whom object to the billboard on the basis that it would distract drivers and make the busy intersection less safe.

Yes, remarkably there will be no safety expert called by Catalyst because they don’t think there is a safety issue for a digital billboard at the intersection Rt. 252 and Lancaster Ave!  In my opinion (and in the opinion of many others)  much of the widespread opposition to the digital sign is focused on safety! Also, it also did not escape many in the audience that the ‘expert’ witness Jesse White is a vendor employee of Catalyst!  Certainly does not make that expert unbiased – he even admitted that his company Watchfire Signs would probably have the contract for this digital billboard, if approved!

The other crazy remarks came from Catalyst witness and employee Tim Earle who compared the proposed digital billboard with its constantly changing face to the gas price sign across the street at the 7-Eleven and to the sign at Conestoga High School!  We can only hope that the so-called expert testimony of Earle will be thoroughly examined by the township attorney at the next meeting!

Although I was hoping that the Zoning Hearing Board meeting would resolve itself in one night – the good news is that the public will have a chance to be heard on July 9 and hopefully without the threat of a tornado keeping some home!

Susan Stein closed her article with a quote from me – it accurately sums up my feelings on this proposed digital billboard. Onward and upward to Tuesday, July 9!

After the hearing, Benson said, “The intersection of Routes 252 and 30 in Paoli is no place for a digital billboard. The bright, constantly-changing digital billboard is designed expressly to attract and hold the attention of drivers. I do not support a digital billboard at this location as it will promote distracted driving and affect public safety, especially given the extremely congested intersection.”

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