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Electronic Billboard Proposed for West Street at I-93, Reading

This Town Meeting article generated heat at Tuesday's selectmen meeting; Town Meeting to convene this coming Monday.

An electronic billboard on West Street, adjacent to Interstate 93.

This article on the warrant for Monday’s special Town Meeting generated significant heat at Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting.

About 20 people urged the selectmen to reject a proposed zoning change to allow an electronic billboard on land owned by the Mobil station. The “hosting” fee the town could receive – between $25,000 and $50,000 a year, according to the article background - is insignificant, speakers said, compared with the anticipated loss of home values in the area because of a billboard.

Woburn Alderman Darlene Mercer-Bruen also asked the town to join Woburn which, she said, has stood “strong and tall” against the “ugly” sign boards.

Some people emailed their support for the billboard, Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner said.

The selectmen voted 2-2 on the article. Selectmen Ben Tafoya and Rick Schubert voted against the warrant article. Selectmen James Bonazoli and John Arena voted for the article go to Town Meeting for discussion by the full body. The 12 people who addressed the selectmen Tuesday reside in the area. Eleven opposed the prospective billboard.

A billboard – a non-electronic one -- is allowed now at the Mobil station, with a special permit from the zoning Board of Appeals. The appeals board rejected a request for one, Hechenbleikner said, a couple of years ago. The Outdoor Advertising Board has allowed electronic signs since the fall, according to the town manager.

The state Outdoor Advertising Board would require the approval of the Board of Selectmen to allow the billboard, Hechenbleikner said.

If an electronic sign was allowed on the West Street property, two billboards on north Main Street would be removed within a certain period of time.

The idea of allowing billboards on town-owned land arose from a Financial Forum in 2010, as a way for the town to raise revenue, according to Tuesday’s discussion. The Finance Committee recommended the proposed zoning change 8-0 earlier this month, on Jan. 9.

Ron Powell January 29, 2013 at 06:55 PM
Good discussion, by the way. Tip of the hat to you, Karl. I also heard a rumor that the CPDC voted unanimously to recommend against this warrant article, and that there will be a motion to effectively kill it through a motion to postpone indefinitely at TM.
Karl Weld January 29, 2013 at 08:28 PM
No rumor Ron. CPDC did vote not to recommend it. It was tabled last night at Town Meeting. It's my understanding that it cannot be brought back for 2 years. So time will tell on what our neighbors do. I agree, good discussion. Would enjoy this site more if all were willing to engage in good-faith, fact-based discussion. BTW, when it was "absolutely critical" that Reading impose the .75% local meals tax (which we did), the expected revenue was $150,000, or .2%, of our annual budget. So all those folks downplaying the small percentage of our budget that the revenue from this billboard would generate, I would ask where was the outcry when that tax was imposed? After all, it's such a small amount of money compared to our whole budget.
Ron Powell January 29, 2013 at 10:41 PM
Mufasa was the man -- er, I mean, lion.
Miriam Crowley February 01, 2013 at 06:15 PM
Hi Karl, I'm not following your point. Do you mean why didn't people complain since the benefit to the town for the meal tax is comparable to the benefit to the town for the billboard? As for the outcry, I would imagine it's the difference between voluntary participation and imposed participation. Individuals can decide not to patronize local businesses if they are opposed to the tax. Individuals cannot opt out of the sign, were it erected.
M February 01, 2013 at 06:23 PM
Miriam you make good points re: the 0.75% meal tax, but you forget the most important ones (1) it is not just imposed on residents, everyone who comes to Reading pays this meal tax, which helps us all out; and (2) just about all of our neighboring towns charge it, too - and given the choice of the same restaurant in our town or another (e.g., McDonalds, Bertucci's, one of the many indistinguishable sub/pizza shops), I'd rather let that extra penny per dollar spent come into my town, vs go to Woburn or Wakefield, etc.

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