A blog post on the Phoenixville Patch over the past few days (they used a photo from Save Ardmore Coalition) reminds me that yes, the billboard issues that have been plaguing the Main Line, Delaware, and Montgomery County is trying to encroach on Chester County too.
And trust me, since I have been at many, many Main Line/Haverford Township billboard hearings, I can tell you it may get nasty.
The guy is Thaddeus Bartkowski. He’s young and affectionately known to billboard activists as Mr. B.I.G. (BIG is the acronym for one of his corporate entities so it’s a play on words, not truly a reference to Sex In The City.)
Anyway, this guy thinks it is his First Amendment right to litter communities with billboards.
I have noticed Chester County has it’s fair share of billboards and do you want more? I know people in Phoenixville are very upset at this prospect in the town. But then again what does a Classic Town designation and a billboard have in common? The answer is not much.
Here is the recent Phoenixville Patch Blog Post:
East Pikeland joins at least 18 other local communities targeted by Thaddeus J. Bartkowski, CEO of Chester County Outdoor, and his legal counsel, the law firm of Kaplin Stewart, in their game of corporate bullying.
Those communities have said, emphatically, that they don’t want digital billboards. As a result, they’ve been subjected to appeals, litigation and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars spent in legal fees.
Bartkowski and Kaplin’s first appeal tactic is to object to the exclusionary nature of local sign ordinances….Communities, not the billboard industry, should have the right to determine appropriate limits for billboard size, and according to a chart of standard billboard sizes, Phoenixville’s and East Pikeland’s ordinances approved sizes for free-standing signs would accommodate at least half of the industry-approved sizes of billboards.
Even in the case of an exclusionary ordinance, though, as Mr. Bartkowski and his legal counsel are aware, communities have the right to ban digital billboards outright if they can show that they are a detriment to local aesthetics or citizen safety.
A recent study by Philadelphia urban planner Jonathan Snyder demonstrates that billboards have a detrimental impact on local property value: In Philadelphia, properties purchased within 500 feet of billboards have a decrease in sale price of $30,826. For each additional billboard in a census tract, there is an average $947 drop in home value, throughout the entire census tract.
On the safety issue: The website of a prominent billboard company boasts that its signs are “virtually impossible to avoid.” Another company’s website promises that “outdoor boards are unavoidable, unstoppable.”
Marketing blogger Andrea Atkins, in a blog post promoting Mr. Bartkowski’s Outdoor Advertising wrote: “Qhat is the No. 1 best feature of outdoor advertising? That customers are basically prisoners; outdoor advertising is difficult to get away from … Is Victoria Secret bringing us new bras? I was staring into space during the commercial, but its hard to miss a gorgeous, half-naked model on a 50-foot digital billboard during rush hour!”
This issue of fighting billboards has been going on in Bryn Mawr and Haverford Township for a few years now. I mean can you imagine giant, I-95 sized billboards in Bryn Mawr? Or in Phoenixville? Why in town centers? Why not leave them on highways or better yet, not have them at all? Why do communities need billboards and why can’t they say no?
One of the proposed Bryn Mawr Locations is across the street from a church. Can you imagine a GIANT condom ad or say a Victoria’s Secret ad across from a church? Because I don’t believe you can dictate billboard content – whatever ad space that is sold on a billboard is ad space, correct?
At many of the hearings we were scoffed at when we said “what if one fell?” Apparently, that query is not so odd after all given recent events out of New York:
In spite of personally being singled out by the billboard guy’s attorney – apparently my First Amendment rights are very optional – he can claim it’s his right to put them in communities, but I am not supposed to be able to say I hate the idea of billboards in communities I care about and why – I still say if you don’t want billboards in your communities you should have a say in the matter. As a matter of fact, four states have banned billboards for years: Vermont, Hawaii, Alaska, and Maine. In England and the UK billboards are controlled via planning and the fines for not following the rules are stiff. And in Toronto, Canada since around 2010 they have been taxed and part of the tax collected goes towards public art and stuff like that.
Yet here, for this guy Mr. B.I.G., all communities are just supposed to roll over? What I still don’t get is why one person seems to be on a mission to billboard SPAM Southeastern PA?
Haverford Township Fire Truck Extends Ladder to Show Residents How High Billboards Would Be (May 2009)
So yeah, a lot of us are real familiar with Mr. B.I.G. and his Billboardquest.
Groups that are fighting billboards in this area are SCRUB and No Billboards – both groups are full of awesome people.
These blue tarps were stretched out at a Haverford Twp. Billboard Hearing So All Could See How Big The Billboards Would Be (May 2009)
On Christmas Day, the Phoenixville billboard issue made the Inquirer and was even picked up by the AP:
Posted: Sun, Dec. 25, 2011, 3:01 AM
By Anthony Campisi Inquirer Staff Writer
Since 2008, Thaddeus J. Bartkowski III’s billboard wars have flared in more than a dozen communities in Delaware and Montgomery counties.
Now he is moving on Phoenixville, with the first shot fired toward the Chester County borough’s historic downtown.
If Bartkowski prevails, three electronic, V-shaped billboards, 12 feet high and 40 feet wide, will go up along Nutt Road, a major thoroughfare. They will rise 43 feet above a borough that has struggled to reinvent itself, filling the void of industrial decline with quaint shops, good restaurants, and gussied-up rowhouses.
Not surprisingly, residents are in high dudgeon. The billboards, they say, would be a visual blight and a dangerous distraction for drivers.
The town is gearing up for what promises to be a long and costly fight likely to land in Chester County Court.
For the billboard purveyor with a novel strategy for placing outdoor ads, courtrooms are familiar battlegrounds.
And more on Chester Co billboard issues:
The zoning hearing board has until Feb. 27 to rule on the substantive validity challenge brought by Chester County Outdoor, LLC.
Editor’s Note: This is the first of two articles on Wednesday’s hearing. This one will deal with the legal aspects of the case, while the follow-up goes into the statements made by the public following the testimony.
After people came forward to offer emotional appeals to stop the process that may allow 40-foot wide, 43-foot tall electronic billboards along the Nutt Road corridor, the zoning hearing for Chester County Outdoor came to a close Wednesday evening.
A public comment period was held following a zoning hearing Wednesday evening.
Carol Kuniholm paced within the area of a few square blocks on the floor, her voice cracking at times as she spoke.
Though not from Phoenixville, Kuniholm has tracked the work of billboard advertising firm Chester County Outdoor and she’s part of Occupy Phoenixville. She called the opposition to three 43-foot tall electronic billboards proposed for the Nutt Road corridor a perfect example of what the Occupy movement is about, calling the bids to put billboards around southeastern Pennsylvania “corporate harassment.”
“You ought to be embarrassed,” Kuniholm told Patrick Wolfington, the lone employee of Chester County Outdoor on hand at Wednesday’s hearing.
Schuylkill Township will invalidate its ordinance and a validity challenge will come before East Pikeland Township on Feb. 8.
As Phoenixville Borough faces its own billboard challenge, East Pikeland Township will face one soon and Schuylkill Township is trying to protect itself from similar action.
Chester County Outdoor posed a substantive validity challenge in front of the Phoenixville Zoning Hearing Board.
The challenge states that the borough’s sign ordinance does not allow for freestanding offsite billboards. Several residents and business representatives spoke at a recent hearing, and a decision from the zoning board is expected by Feb. 27.
Anyway, if you live in Chester County and where you live doesn’t have zoning to address billboards, or has zoning with holes like the holes in swiss cheese on the books, you had better sit up and pay some mind to this issue.
Trust me, these people are like ants at the proverbial picnic. Or mold. Take your pick.