EDISON, NJ — The Edison Zoning Board convened on November 24 to review 3 proposal applications. The first applicant on the agenda (Case #Z10-2020), Mr. Narayan, was not in attendance. The case was not heard. 

The board then addressed Mr. Saravanan (Case #Z17-2020), who sought to construct a 6-foot fence. With plans to adopt a dog, he believed a fence would allow it “to move freely in the backyard.” Mr. Saravanan provided images of his property and explained how far the fence would extend. The board was initially concerned that the fence could obstruct a driver's vision. However, they concluded, “this wouldn’t be an issue.” The notion was approved with no members in opposition. 

Lastly, American Outdoor Advertising (Case #Z53-2019) presented its plan to construct a digital billboard on Route 287. The proposed billboard has two sides; permitted is 1. The proposed sign area is 672 square feet (14 x 48 ft.); permitted is 250 square feet. The proposed height is 110 feet; permitted is 15 feet. The billboard would show a new image or “flip” every 8 seconds, a standard in the industry. 

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Lawyer Jeff Lehrer represented American Outdoor Advertising. He argued that digital billboards were safe for drivers, citing a 2012 study conducted by the Federal Highway Administration. “Average drivers devoted between 73 and 85% of their visual attention to the road ahead, and the presence of digital billboards was not related to a decrease in looking at the road ahead.”

Mr. Lehrer called forth three key witnesses, including site engineer Alex Zepponi. Mr. Zepponi provided a proposed site plan for the digital billboard. He stated that the digital billboard fell “into all the parameters that we consider to be a safe read along the highway.” 

Mr. Timothy Stauning, Managing Director of American Outdoor Advertising, was the next witness to speak. He played a simulation of the billboard flipping every 8 seconds at the proposed height of 110 feet. Furthermore, he promised to devote 1 flip to the Edison community, free of charge. 

The final witness was Mr. Ray Digby, who serves as the Program Manager of Watchfire Signs. Watchfire Signs has developed a light-blocking technology that lessens the range of billboard glare. Mr. Digby told the board there would be “minimal, if any, increase in light levels.” American Outdoor Advertising plans to implement this technology in their billboard design. 

Zoning Board member Hank Bignell expressed his concern about the 8-second flip, pointing out that all other digital billboards in Edison had a significantly longer flip time. Chairperson Rosemary Feteric added that she takes her eyes off the road when she sees a digital billboard—“to me, it’s a distraction.”

The Zoning Board pointed over several discrepancies over the billboard's angle and the distance of the billboard to neighboring residences. They also asked for more documentation certifying the reliability of Watchfire Signs’ technology and clarity around how the billboard glare will affect surrounding neighborhoods. Finally, the board requested testimonies of drivers on the highway interacting with an 8-second flip billboard. 

The applicant’s case was not closed due to unanswered questions and technical issues. The earliest the case will be renoticed is March 2021. 

This was Edison’s last Zoning Board meeting of 2020. Dates for 2021 meetings have not yet been confirmed.