billboard mania: east goshen’s pre-emptive strike

Everyone knows how I feel about billboards.  I hate them.  And East Goshen must not have them too high on the lists of likes based on a notice I received today.

I see it as a *problem* that East Goshen doesn’t broadcast or seem to record their meetings in any fashion.  They are nice people who do a great job, but not everyone wants to sit through every meeting and I wish they would at least live stream the meetings, but anyway.  The point is, however,  kudos to them for taking care of business hopefully before the billboard king comes calling.  East Goshen doesn’t need the expense of dealing with the 12-year-old billboard tycoon and his little lawyer. Just ask the people of Preserve Our PA Towns  and  Scenic Philadelphia (SCRUB) (find Preserve our PA Towns on Facebook and Scenic Philadelphia on Facebook too.) Or people in Phoenixville and many, many other townships and boroughs and municipalities.

Got this notice from East Goshen Township:

Purpose of this letter is to inform you that the Board of Supervisors will conduct a hearing amending the Township Zoning Ordinance for Billboards (Off Premises Signs) on Sept 4, 2012 at 7 pm.
Read 1000 foot letter Zoning Change Billboards
Read Proposed Ordinance

Now I ran this past a couple of lawyers, and one got back to me and said:

…the proposed regulations are reasonable. The size of the signs are less than the industry standard (670 sq. ft.) and the conditional use requirement provides further scrutiny. Bottom. Line—if you don’t provide for off-premise signs somehow, somewhere, a court will do it for you.

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it still looks like a giant distracting T.V. floating above route 202

On 202 in Westtown there is a giant T.V. screen, oh I am sorry, billboard. Or is it digital advertising?  Or is it “ground-mounted electronic-display system”?   Incredibly ugly, incredibly distracting I think. I have written about this billboard a couple of times now.

I still don’t understand why it was that Westtown officials sold out over this billboard, but on our way to Dilworthtown’s Blue Pear for dinner last night as a passenger in a car on 202 I was once again struck how distracting this signage was.

It floats over 202 like a GIANT disembodied television screen.  And like a T.V. it seems to change channels.  And last night there was a giant ad called “a kidney for Aretha.”

Really?

So I googled and found an Inquirer article about this.  I mean no disrespect to this Aretha, but I did my time at billboard hearings in more than one municipality and while I want to believe this is being done for the greater good, the jaded community activist in me wonders if he is trying to repair a tarnished community image in multiple municipalities?  How many of us were picked on in a questionable manner by his legal team at meetings?  Did Bartkowski seem to care about the resident after resident from all walks of life at multiple meetings in multiple municipalities who begged for their communities?

I really,really hope this lady gets her kidney, however, I really wish officials would start keeping tabs on that billboard, especially at night.  It’s awful. And distracting.  And why is that good for any community?  I wish I could believe the King of All Billboards was merely being a good son, and altruistic, don’t you? But I was at those meetings, and so were a lot of people I know, and the dueling images just don’t quite fit.

The billboard up and back in the dark was so bright. Thank goodness it wasn’t hovering over the Blue Pear like a neon full moon.  That would have totally ruined a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Aretha Swift advertises for a kidney

June 07, 2012|Ronnie Polaneczky Daily News

HOW MANY billboard owners does it take to snag a kidney?

Ten — if one of them is an obedient son. Luckily for Aretha Swift, Thaddeus Bartkowski is a very obedient son.

A few months ago, Bartkowski’s mom was listening to KYW radio while driving and heard a story about Swift. Swift’s kidneys had failed, but no one among her family and friends was a suitable match to donate a kidney to her. So she was placed on a waiting list to receive one from a cadaver or living donor. The average wait is five years.

The KYW story was about a fundraiser that Aretha held to buy space on a billboard to advertise her need…..”My mom called and said, ‘You should contact this woman,’” says Bartkowski, 32, co-founder of Catalyst Outdoor Advertising, in Devon. “She never calls while she’s driving unless she thinks something is really important. I thought I should listen to her.”

And that’s why, as of Friday, Swift’s cause now graces 24 digital billboards in places like King of Prussia, Reading, the Jersey shore and even — ta dah — Times Square.

They show a lovely photo of Swift alongside the words, “You have two, I only need one to live.” Viewers are then directed to a website, http://www.AKidneyForAretha.com, to learn more…..”Thaddeus didn’t know me from Adam and he’s done all this,” says Swift, 52, who is separated, lives in Roslyn and has three children. “And he’s only 32! He’s so impressive!”

 

 

 

Phoenixville Says NO To Billboards

Well, what do you know?

Both Phoenixville AND Haverford Township said “no” to BIG BAD Billboards this week.

Good.

Both these cases will go to an appeals process.  This guy wants his billboards everywhere.  He feels it is his Constitutional right.  Never mind the rights of affected residents.    Who knew Constitutional rights were so subjective, right?

A commenter on the Phoenixville Patch referred to Article 1 Section 27 of the Pennsylvania State Constitutions  which states:

 “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”

Residents in all counties being affected by these billboard challenges should deluge their state elected officials on this topic.  Since the whole shebangy started in Haverford Township a couple of years ago over billboards state level elected representatives have been making appropriate noises regarding protecting communities, only nothing ever seems to go past those supportive murmurs. (Not that I am surprised, politicians are well..politicians.)  But this is an election year, so the people could make this count if they make enough of a stink.

Kudos to Phoenixville.  And ya know, it is a Classic Town, so people really should enter the DVRPC photo contest…..   http://contest.classictowns.org/

But I digress.  Back to billboards and here is the latest in the media, and look lively in East Pikeland, the billboard king has apparently filed there too.  The Inquirer says that will be heard in East Pikeland on February 29.

Phoenixville says no to billboard baron

February 16, 2012|By Anthony Campisi, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

Suburban billboard baron Thaddeus Bartkowski III suffered a loss Wednesday evening in his effort to erect three electronic billboards, 12 feet high and 40 feet wide, near the heart of Phoenixville’s historic downtown.

The borough’s Zoning Hearing Board turned down Bartkowski’s request to invalidate an ordinance that would prevent him from erecting the signs along Nutt Road, a major thoroughfare in the Chester County community.

Bartkowski, who is engaged in similar battles in Delaware and Montgomery Counties, has argued that all Pennsylvania municipalities must allow billboards somewhere within their borders…..In its decision Wednesday, the zoning board said Phoenixville does permit outdoor advertising, just not of the scope of Bartkowski’s V-shaped signs, which would rise 43 feet in the air.

An attorney for Bartkowski could not be reached for comment Thursday. Bartkowski has appealed similar unfavorable decisions to county courts

An application for a substantive validity challenge by billboard company Chester County Outdoor was denied Wednesday evening.

ByLynn Jusinski   Email the author   February 16, 2012

The next step may be county court for a company hoping to erect electronic billboards along Nutt Road in Phoenixville.

In front of a modest crowd Wednesday evening, the borough’s zoning hearing board denied the application for a substantive validity challenge from Chester County Outdoor.

The company currently has leases with three Phoenixville businesses to erect V-shaped electronic billboards standing 12 feet tall and 41 feet wide, with the total structures at 43 to 47 feet from the ground to the top of the sign.

Haverford Patch: Zoning Board Votes No On Billboards

BIG plans to appeal the ruling.  By Anthony Leone  Email the author

During its Thursday night meeting, the Haverford Township Zoning Hearing Board voted 5-0 against the billboard proposal.

Bartkowski Investment Group’s (BIG) wanted to have five 672-square-foot billboards placed in Haverford Township—two of the billboards would be located along Lancaster Avenue in Haverford Township overlooking Bryn Mawr in Lower Merion Township, and three signs along West Chester Pike in Haverford Township. BIG’s challenged that Haverford Township’s no billboard ordinance was unconstitutional and a restriction on free speech.

But after a nearly three-year battle with experts and residents giving testimony in front of the zoning hearing board, the board on Thursday night disagreed with BIG’s validity challenge that the township bans all forms of outdoor advertising, since it does allow for other outdoor advertising, such as ads on SEPTA buses. In addition, the board also ruled that the township and the residents’ legal party in the case showed that billboards could be unsafe for residents.

However, Thaddeus Bartkowski explained to Patch in a recent story that he will be appealing the zoning hearing board’s ruling if it was not in his favor.

 

Philly.com Neighbors: Haverford Township goes billboard free

Margaret Murr couldn’t help pointing out whose turf Bartkowski Investment  Group played on for the past three years as the advertising company worked to  put up five billboards in Haverford Township.

“It’s our town,” Murr, one of the four township residents who filed as  parties in the hearing, said after the Haverford Township Zoning Hearing Board  voted unanimously to deny BIG’s challenge to the validity of the township’s  advertising code

it’s a billboard thing.

Billlboards are just ugly and I find the digital ones very distracting and constantly question if they are actually safe.

I was a passenger in a car on 202 on Saturday and was astounded by the new billboards being erected in or around Westtown on 202. GIANT billboards that were like GIANT flat screen televisions.  I could not believe any municipality would think they were safe on an accident prone road like Route 202.

The photos were taken with my camera phone so they are fuzzy, but I think you get the picture, literally.  This was how bright they were during daylight hours.

Seriously, I can’t understand how any municipality in Chester County thinks these are a positive addition to any community, can you?

Here is the article from the billboard hearing wrap-up in Haverford Township. If you are in Phoenixville of any other community facing the prospects of billboards in your community, I suggest you read the article and check these billboards out live on Route 202.

Haverford zoning board hears final billboard arguments By LOIS PUGLIONESI Times Correspondent

Published: Monday, February 06, 2012

…..The proposed locations for the five, double-faced, 672-square-foot signs are 2040, 1330 and 1157 West Chester Pike, and 600 and 648 Lancaster Ave.
A decision will be issued Feb. 16, Chairman Robert Kane said, with a written opinion to follow.
Testimony spanned two years and nine months in 26 hearings
BIG attorney Marc Kaplin repeated his argument that Haverford’s sign ordinances improperly exclude billboards, a legitimate use. The township has the right to regulate but not prohibit these signs, Kaplin said. ….Township attorney Jim Byrne maintained that BIG’s validity challenge concerned the township’s alleged prohibition on outdoor advertising, with billboards comprising one form. Haverford allows alternate outdoor advertising forms, such as ads on bus shelter, shopping cart, and stadiums, Byrne said.
He averred that Haverford’s billboard exclusion is justified based on public health, safety and welfare concerns.
He noted to a recent calamity in which a seven-story billboard collapsed onto the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in New York.
And these gigantic signs are inherently intended to create driver distraction, Byrne said, undesirable in busy, congested areas witnesses have identified as already taxing for motorists.
Byrne cited the Pennsylvania Constitution, affording everyone the right to “clean air, pure water, preservation of natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment.”  (READ MORE HERE)

Also, a  cross-post from the Save Ardmore blog:

Hmmm.  Whaddya know?  The court says the Five Points Billboard in Bryn Mawr is not allowed?  Sticking out tongue

This news comes from Lower Merion Commissioner this afternoon.  To billboard activists I am sure this is both poignant and welcome news on the night of the last scheduled billboard hearing in Haverford Township. (as per WG Hills Mom it is at 7 pm today 2/2/2012 at Haverford Twp Bldg, 2325 Darby Rd, Havertown.)

Anyway, not to keep you in suspense, but here is (verbatim) the update on the Bryn Mawr Five Points Billboard as per Comissioner  Scott Zelov:

Dear Bryn Mawr Neighbors,

The Court has just today confirmed that the existing billboard in Bryn Mawr at the 5 points intersection is not allowed!   It’s been awhile since the Township issued a zoning violation against the billboard attached to a wall above that intersection.  After the notice was issued, the Township learned that the billboard company is the same company with whom Haverford Township and Lower Merion Township are at odds over billboards proposed for Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr—and for which the closing arguments are tonight in Haverford Township!  Over a year ago the Lower Merion Zoning Board found that the existing billboard had to be removed.  The decision was appealed, and this morning the Common Pleas Court denied the appeal and upheld the decision of the Lower Merion Zoning Board.  The decision can be further appealed to the Commonwealth Court; however, thus far the Township has achieved another big victory and excellent result against a billboard that doesn’t belong in our community. 

Thanks, Scott Zelov

Here’s a walk down memory lane on this particular billboard:

Main Line Times > News Billboard debate shifts to Five Points Published: Wednesday, April 28, 2010 By Cheryl Allison

fight potential billboard blight in chester county

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:

Local Voices

Blog: Billboard Bully Strikes Again  Posted on January 19, 2012 at 10:51 pm

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.

YUCK.

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
 

Borough preps for billboard battle

Phoenixville will likely wind up in court in its fight to keep three 40-foot-wide electronic signs out of town.

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.

 

Speakers Voice Emotional Appeals Against Potential Billboards in Phoenixville

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.

 

Phoenixville Area Municipalities Brace for Billboard Challenges

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.