Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Tredyffrin Township Denies Two Applications by Catalyst Outdoor Advertising Related to Digital Billboard Project in Paoli!

The end of 2018 left many of us in the community with more questions than answers about Tredyffrin Township’s direction regarding the future of the Clockworks building and the proposed digital billboard project at the intersection of Rts 252 and 30 in Paoli. However, the New Year brings exciting news from the township on a couple of fronts.

If you recall, Tredyffrin Township received two applications from Catalyst Outdoor Advertising (dba “Tredyffrin Outdoor, LLC”) on December 18 related to their proposed digital billboard project – (1) a demolition permit application for the Clockworks building and (2) an application to switch the face of the small billboard (located next to the Clockworks building) to a digital one.

This week the public learned at the Board of Supervisors meeting that the Clockworks building demolition permit application was denied, with the township citing an ‘incomplete application’. The Catalyst representatives had submitted the demolition application in December without including the signature of the owner of the property, Dale Nelson.

Thaddeus Bartkowski, the CEO of Catalyst has a signed 30 year lease on the small billboard located on the Clockworks site but does not actually own the property. The lease between Catalyst and Dale E. Nelson, the owner of the property, is only for the small sign located next to the Clockworks building. (The lease is included in the demolition documents). So, then the question becomes how is it possible that Mr. Bartkowski thinks he can demolish a building on property that he doesn’t actually own? Did he think that the township staff review of the demolition application would perhaps not catch the glaring omission?

It is my understanding that a property sale agreement exists between Catalyst and Nelson (the owner of the property) for some future closing date. I have not seen a copy of the sale agreement — however there is no doubt that the agreement and expected closing date is based on certain terms – perhaps a contingency based on township approval for the digital billboard.

And important point to remember is that there is nothing to keep Catalyst from resubmitting the demolition permit application with Dale Nelson’s signature. The township demolition process does not require approval by the Board of Supervisors and the Clockworks building is not protected. I need to restate that Tredyffrin Township does not have a historic preservation ordinance — Clockworks building aside, no historic property is protected from demolition.

But you would have to wonder why Nelson would sign the demolition application on the Clockworks building prior to Catalyst actually purchasing the property. How about this scenario, Dale Nelson signs the demolition permit application, the Clockworks building comes down and Catalyst does not gain approval for the digital billboard. Were Tredyffrin Township to decide not to approve the proposed digital billboard monument, Catalyst may decide not to move forward on the property sale – thus leaving Dale Nelson with an empty lot, no revenue source from the Clockworks building and a community of unhappy residents! To date, Catalyst has not submitted the plans for the digital monument so there’s no action required on the part of the township.

The other application submitted by Catalyst Outdoor Advertising last month was for an “electric lamp changeable copy face” at 1819 Lancaster Ave, Paoli. Catalyst was proposing the digitizing of the existing small free standing advertising sign next to the Clockworks building. Remember, this is the sign with the 30-year lease between Catalyst and Dale Nelson.

We learned yesterday that Matt Baumann, the Zoning Officer for Tredyffrin Township sent Thaddeus Bartkowski a letter denying the application by Catalyst to digitize the current sign on the Clockworks site. The letter states that the proposed sign does not comply with the requirements of an advertising sign and is not permitted on the property. In its application, Catalyst suggests that the sign is an “electric lamp changeable copy face” and the township has determined that the sign is not a changeable copy sign. Catalyst does have the right to appeal the notice through the Zoning Hearing Board within 30 days.

With the denial of the application to digitize the existing sign and a denial on the demolition application of the Clockworks building (albeit they can resubmit with required signature) is it possible that Catalyst Outdoor Advertising will see the handwriting on the wall and take their plans for a digital billboard somewhere else? Will Dale Nelson do some soul-searching and not sign the demolition application?

Although I’m excited that the township leadership has denied the two applications from Catalyst regarding the proposed digital billboard, it needs to be stated that the battle is not over.

And just when I thought that the “Ban the Digital Billboard” signs were safe, I have learned that two were stolen from a resident’s lawn over the weekend – this was the third set of signs stolen from this specific property, just steps from her front door on Old Eagle School Road.

I have additional “Ban” signs ready to go up in the next couple of weeks and I ask that you ask you friends, neighbors and co-workers to sign the “Ban the Digital Billboard” petition on (Click here for the link to share).

Paoli, Pennsylvania is not New York City, Chicago or Philadelphia … It’s our community, we love it and don’t want a digital billboard!


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  1. Pattye, we are so grateful to you for your commitment to this important cause and this good news is solely because of your efforts. Your work is so important. It contributes to the well being of the community and it directly serves the people who live and work here.

  2. This is a good start, but isn’t there something our elected officials in Tredyffrin could be doing right now to create an ordinance or something to protect the historic buildings?

  3. The fight isn’t over until that clockworks building is protected from demolition. That’s a lovely, historic structure and must be protected, before the greedy mindless turn Paoli into a cheap wasteland.

  4. We have been fighting him for over 10 years in Msrple Haverford Springfield Morton and Newtown Sq.
    Have been trying all that time to change the state code to put more local control. Your old state rep had no interest in the bill. Believe the property is on a federal funded highway so look at the recent story about digital signs in Phila that were going to be in the right away. That could cut highway funds. Most towns hadn’t changed their codes to allow off premises signs so they would file that the local zoning code was invalid. Some towns would make a deal and others would fight him.

    Talk to your new rep to work with other reps to get a new bill started to put local control on signs.

    1. John Butler has a good idea. Who is our new Rep? Let’s talk to him/her to get a new bill started to make sure signs are under the area of local control.

      Who was the old rep? Why didn’t he/she show interest in this?

        1. TY Pattye.
          Please don’t ever run for public office. Your skill and talent as a community activist is way more effective and allows you to accomplish things no politician could dream of accomplishing.

          1. Very flattering :) But don’t you think that if we elect the right people they should be the public’s best advocates? All I want is for our local elected officials to listen to the community and to deliver on their campaign promises. For me, that’s say ‘no’ to digital billboards in Tredyffrin Township and to support the history of this community and to FINALLY enact a historic preservation ordinance.

  5. Pattye,

    Thank you for all that you have done for the people
    of Tredyffrin Township. We must stay to top of
    what is happening in the township to keep our home
    values up

    A suggestion would be for everyone to contact our
    Zoning Board and tell them we need a Historic Preservation Ordinance ASAP

    1. Now that’s some label! :) When I started the “Ban the Digital Billboard & Save the Clockworks Building” campaign with the BAN signs, the petition, Facebook page, etc. we knew it was going to take the entire community to make an impact! I’ve lived here a long time and I don’t ever recall another issue that has so galvanized and united — community does matter!

  6. We need good activists and good Commissioners. Good activists hold Commissioners accountable. And good Commissioners must ask themselves whether the activists are right — even when they are taking action against those very Commissioners.

  7. Dear Pattye,
    I am happy to help you, the community and the Supervisors pro bono to create a Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Ordinance. I am a resident for over 25 years. I am an Attorney specializing in Pro Bono work in Chester County with a Real Estate referral license. I will do it with a committee of volunteers any day of the week! I am pulling up all the adjacent Historic Ordinances including Lower Merion, Radnor, Phoenixville and more.
    Let’s do a petition and a Go Fund Me for that purpose!

    I am in Full support of banning digital if not all billboards as they are just offensive to the eye.

    Our Township must retain the beauty of being green and open. Although, I understand there is a commercial lease and a real estate contract, there may be contingencies which to allow either party to walk away.

    There could be an opportunity for owner or the Trust to think about alternative ways to donate the property for tax benefits or lease/sell to a green organization.

    1. There has been a draft historic preservation ordinance floating around the township supervisors since last Spring. It is my understanding that there has been legal review of the ordinance so I am not sure why it has not yet come in front of the public for discussion. Any historic preservation ordinance that ‘may’ come along will will be of no use for the Clockworks building as this project would be grandfathered in. I’ve spent years trying to get a historic preservation ordinance through the township but there’s never been adequate support from the Board of Supervisors. Here’s hoping that 2019 will finally be the “Year of Historic Preservation” in the township! Thanks for your offer to help!

  8. someone mentioned something about road? ownership. curious question: is Lancaster ave considered a township or state road. would this billboard be a distraction to drivers on a local or state road? if a state road, must this appeal be posed to pendot?


    1. I would think that PennDOT would need to be involved at some level with the proposed digital billboard. With the train tracks so close to the proposed digital billboard and the possible demolition of the Clockworks building – you would think that that Septa would have to sign off on the project also. Regarding the possible demolition of the building which would require the closure of Rt. 252 and 30 (and Septa??) PennDOT would have to be involved. I can’t imagine the nightmare with traffic if the intersection were to close, even briefly for demolition and additional police needed, etc. Let’s hope it doesn’t get to that point!

  9. Zoning Officer Matt Baumann explains in Mainline MediaNews:

    In 1974 the township granted permission for a billboard on the property, which is on heavily traveled roads. However, in his letter to Catalyst, Baumann stated that the code says that signs may be “externally lit.”

    “However, internal illumination on freestanding advertising signs is not specifically permitted,” the letter said. “Furthermore, animated signs and signs that flash are prohibited,” he said, citing township code.

    The billboard company has 30 days to appeal Baumann’s ruling to the Zoning Hearing Board.

    If animated signs and signs that flash are prohibited according to Zoning Officer Naumann, doesn’t that say it all and put an end to the proposal? And since Baumann is a zoning officer, wouldn’t catalyst have to go to him to appeal it? Doesn’t seem like the billboard meets township codes.

  10. I saw an “available” sign on the Clockworks property today – not sure if that means the property is for sale or if the tenant is moving out and they are looking for a new tenant?

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