At a hearing Wednesday in Chester County, lawmakers on the Senate Democratic Policy Committee were told more restrictions are needed on electronic billboards to prevent traffic safety problems, impacts on property values and natural landscapes.
The hearing was held at the request of Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester) who has sponsored Senate Bill 1301 to toughen restrictions on flashing electronic billboards (sponsor summary).
“The state’s 45-year-old law never envisioned the proliferation of these brightly-lit electronic billboards that impact everything from highway safety to our natural landscapes and viewsheds to local property values,” Sen. Dinniman said. “My legislation calls for local hearings to give community leaders an opportunity to fully consider the size of a proposed billboard; spacing and lighting; highway safety; light pollution and other property and development issues.”
Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh), Chair of the Committee, added, “These electronic billboards are relentlessly bright – especially at night — and flash rotating advertisements seconds apart. They are an overwhelming and often unsightly visual element wherever they are located. I applaud Senator Dinniman for introducing legislation that would update our antiquated billboard law, tighten restrictions on these devices and give local communities more say over where these billboards can be located.”
After Downingtown Mayor Josh Maxwell welcomed the Senate committee to the Chester County Intermediate Unit, the public hearing focused on Sen. Dinniman’s bill and the impact that electronic billboards have on local health, safety, property values and a community’s appeal.
Sen. Dinniman estimated that Chester County already has seven electronic billboards. The Senate panel heard from a number of local officials, preservationists and citizens on the issue.
Downingtown resident Bobbi Jo Broomell lamented that a billboard shines directly into her home. She said no one in the neighborhood knew that the sign – the size of a drive-in movie screen — was to be located hovering over their homes.
“We had no notification so we didn’t even get a chance to fight,” Brommell about the billboard being erected. “We have no choice but to have this huge monster shining down on us.”
Broomell added that electronic billboards are “destroying our health.” She also said the huge electronic structures hurt property and resale values because “no one wants to buy a house where there is a huge sign shining through their window day and night.”
William Gladden, who serves as director of Chester County Open Space, said the county has spent $190 million toward preserving approximately 25 percent of the county’s natural lands and forests.
He endorsed Sen. Dinniman’s bill, claiming it would bring “people living in the shadow of these visual impairments and local government leaders into a more inclusive permitting process.”
West Chester Attorney Anthony Verwey, who has successfully defended municipal ordinances that regulate the placement of electronic billboards, said he believes “electronic billboards can be constructed at locations that protect and respect the rights of property owners and the Commonwealth’s obligation to protect its natural, scenic and aesthetic values.”
Officials from Catalyst, the billboard company that built the electronic sign in Downingtown, were invited to testify at the hearing, but declined.
The following individuals testified at the hearing:
-- Ernie Holling, president, Chester County Association of Township Officials;
-- Ann Feldman, Downingtown Borough Council;
-- Phil Dague, Downingtown Borough Council;
-- Blair Fleischmann, executive director, S.A.V.E.;
-- Jack Butler, President, Preserve Pennsylvania Towns;
-- William Gladden, Director, Chester County Open Space Preservation;
-- John Snook, Senior Advisor, Brandywine Conservancy;
-- Melissa Batula, Highway Delivery Division Chief, PennDOT;
-- Attorney Anthony Verwey, Unruh Turner Burke & Frees; and
-- Bobbi Jo Broomell, Downingtown resident.
Sen. Dinniman’s bill would require municipalities to do the following when considering or approving proposed electronic/digital billboards:
-- Consider concerns regarding a proposed digital/electronic billboard’s lighting impact on local residents and neighborhoods;
-- Take into account the potential impact on open space and the preservation of open space view sheds. The state and many counties have spent millions to preserve open space;
-- Consider potential loss of real estate property value on nearby homes and businesses; and
-- Consider a proposed digital/electronic billboard’s potential to distract drivers and the resulting impact on vehicle accidents rates on our roadways.
The bill would also change the permit process by which PennDOT approves such “off-premise” signs, requiring the department to include local municipalities in its site review process before granting such permits on its rights of way.
Introduced on June 6, the bill is currently under consideration in the Senate Committee on Transportation.
Joining Senators Dinniman and Boscola at the hearing were Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) and Sen. John Wozniak (D-Cambria).For more information, visit the Senate Democratic Policy Committee webpage.
More Control Of Digital Billboards Needed, Lawmakers Told
(Photo: Philly.com Digital Billboards Glow; Downingtown Residents Scowl.)