LED Electronic Billboard

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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What’s the Future of the Rt. 252 LED Electronic Billboard . . . Summary of Planning Commission Meeting

I was unable to attend last week’s Planning Commission meeting where the discussion centered around a zoning request to change Radbill Park  from residential to commercial zoning.  The request was driven by Clear Channel who would like to have the traditional Rt. 252 billboard changed to an LED electronic billboard. 

Many people have asked what happened at the Planning Commission meeting and I am to provide the following meeting summary, authored by Finbar McEvoy, president of Daylesford Lake Condominium Association.  Here’s a link to the summary. The Pennsylvania Resource Council completed a study,  Signs, Billboards & Your Community which provides interesting research on this subject. To read the study, click here.

Tredyffrin Township Planning Commission Meeting – Thursday October 21, 2010 at 7 PM

 Summary of Meeting to Consider Rezoning Radbill Park from Residential to Commercial 

Approximately forty Tredyffrin residents including a large number from Daylesford Lake attended the regular meeting of the Tredyffrin Township Planning Commission. 

The meeting started with a presentation by Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc. on the benefits to the community of installing a digital LED billboard on the site of the billboard that currently sits on Rte. 252 across from the entrance to Daylesford Lake.  Barbara Bridge, Vice President for Public Relations at Clear Channel, made the presentation.  She said the new sign would have the capability to provide instant “Amber Alerts”, information about the FBI’s most wanted fugitives as well as news from the Township.  She put the number of time slots that would be available for Township advertising at one hundred per day. 

There was a great deal of discussion by the Commission members concerning the brightness of the new billboard and how much light would extend from it to nearby homes.   Clear Channel claimed there would be minimal impact.  However, they were unable to provide quantitative data, including light output levels and changing brightness over time, to support their arguments.  Clear Channel acknowledged that the images on the display would change as frequently as every eight seconds.  In addition they stated that the Billboard would be lit twenty four hours per day, although that schedule could be modified. 

In response to a point made by a Commission member, that the Federal government prohibits moving images on billboards in order to reduce distractions to drivers and nearby residents, Clear Channel contended that studies which they have reviewed support the conclusion that LED billboards do not increase the number of accidents.  That finding was echoed by Township Manager Mimi Gleeson who reported that she had asked the Police Department about the impact of the sign on traffic safety.  

In responses to questions from Commission members about power failures, Clear Channel stated that auxiliary power (a back-up generator) could be added to the billboard in the future and it would be possible to install a two-sided display if the Township asked to modify the lease.  Clear Channel also said it was unaware of a similar type of billboard in a residential area within ten miles of the proposed site although they thought there is an LED billboard in Easttown Township. 

Members of the Planning Commission asked more questions after Clear Channel’s presentation.  These focused mainly on the precedent that would be set by the Commission’s decision since this would be the first billboard of this type located in the township.  Some Commission members expressed the opinion that an LED billboard would be a good way to get Township messages to residents.  They stated that the Township had difficulty doing that in the past.  Other Commission members expressed concern about the placement of the sign in a residential area and the impact it would have on the residents who live nearby.  One member asked if the sign could be switched off at night when traffic volumes were low.  Clear Channel answered, “anything is possible”. 

After Commission members completed their questioning, the floor was opened for public input.  Scott MacNair from the law firm of Clemons, Richter and Reiss (www.clemmonslaw.com) spoke first.  Scott was representing Daylesford Lake Condominium Association.  He expressed concern about the size of the proposed billboard and its close proximity to the busy intersection at Bear Hill Road (Rte 252) and Howellville Road.  He noted that the intersection has been the site of accidents and the proposal to have the sign face southbound traffic would make it an increased distraction to drivers.  He presented the Commission with several studies done in other states that support the conclusion that billboards do increase the level of distraction for drivers.  Scott also reinforced another speaker’s point that a brighter and frequently changing sign should not be located in a residential area.  He said it is much more appropriate on a major highway like Interstate 95 or Route 422.   Finally, Scott expressed doubts about the small amount of “light spillage” that Clear Channel claimed would impact local residents.  

John DiBuonaventuro, the Township supervisor who represents Daylesford Lake and Daylesford Estates, then reinforced the importance and seriousness of the issue by urging the Planning Commission to refer it to the Township Traffic Committee. 

Then four residents from Daylesford Lake including two who are directly impacted by the existing billboard behind their units spoke to the Commission.  Julia Barns who lives at Unit #4 stated that the existing billboard shines into her deck and living room and that during the nearly twenty years she has lived in Daylesford Lake the brightness of the sign has increased.  She questioned whether any of the Clear Channel executives have an LED billboard in their backyards.   Bill Goulding whose unit is directly across from the billboard (within 50 yards) expressed his concern about being able to sleep with a picture that would change every five minutes or less.  He made an analogy to trying to sleep with the television on.  “You can see the picture changing even if the lights are off and your eyes are closed.”  Finbar McEvoy, President of the Daylesford Lake Condominium Association, stated that the existing billboard can be seen from several locations in the development and the proposed LED billboard would fundamentally alter the character of the community.  He also stated that over one hundred and twenty residents of Daylesford Lake have signed a petition expressing their opposition to the proposed change. 

Following the public input, members of the Commission discussed how they should vote on the issue.  One member wanted to deny the application on the basis that the sign does not belong in a residential area.  Others wanted to take a neutral position.  Another point of view was that the information provided was not sufficient to render any decision.  Several members wanted to refer the matter to the Traffic Committee.  One member expressed concern about the contents and transparency of the Township’s lease agreement with Clear Channel. He strongly advocated including language that would prevent any administrative change to the lease without a public hearing and public input.

The Commission decided to ask Clear Channel to provide additional information about the Billboard and to answer the questions raised in this meeting. Then they referred the matter to the Traffic Committee for review and additional input.  The Commission will make its final recommendation after the Traffic Committee makes its report.  The Traffic Committee (http://www.tredyffrin.org/boards/tc/) will meet on Wednesday November 17.  The Planning Commission’s (http://www.tredyffrin.org/boards/pc/) next meeting will be on Thursday November 18.  Because the Planning Commission is an advisory body, the Board of Supervisors will make the final decision. The Board of Supervisors could take up the issue as early as Monday, December 6th, the date of its next meeting.

While the Planning Commission members seemed uncertain about their role in the decision making process for rezoning Radbill Park and which course of action they should take, they did seem to understand the importance of the precedent that their decision would have for the Township.  There appeared to be a lot of uncertainty about the impact of the LED Billboard on residential areas.  The Township’s need for new sources of revenue and improved communications with its residents were recurring themes.  It was also revealed that rezoning is required for this situation because PennDOT regulations do not allow for LED signs on state roads in residential-zoned areas.  Bear Hill Rd. (Rte. 252) is a state road.  The Commission must also consider how the proposed change fits into the Township’s development plan.  The Commission acknowledged the importance of the public’s strong reaction to the proposal.  

Local residents will be meeting to assess the situation and to plan for subsequent activities.  Further updates will be provided as those plans becomes available.

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