FLEMINGTON, NJ – The lawyer for the developer of a plan to install illuminated billboards on the Flemington circle called their location “ideal” and said they offered “no substantial detriment to the public good.”

Planning and Zoning Board Chair Todd Cook said the billboards on the heavily-trafficked circle will be “less of a distraction than what is there now … I can’t think of another place in town where it would be safer” to have such signs.

The Board approved the plan by Catalyst Outdoor Development/Flemington Outdoor at its meeting last night.

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The electronic billboards, what the developer calls a “living wall gateway monument,” will be built on the former Zippy Lube site on Route 202 South, which is where Nod’s Auto is now. Among the variances approved was from the borough’s sign ordinance, which does not allow billboards.

“The number one mission is safety,” said Zoning Board Traffic Engineer Jay Troutman, “and “number one for me, to make sure we have an outside agency looking at this.”  

That was a reference to the state Department of Transportation, which “regulates this display to not allow certain things that could distract drivers,” Troutman said. “He called the plan “traffic safety neutral.”

DOT has already approved the billboards, but Troutman said their permits require annual renewal. If crash data shows a decrease in safety on the circle, “I suggest we petition DOT to not renew the permit of whatever display” caused the crashes,” he said. “You would have to have that data.”  

Cook said he believed that if the wall contained only plants and no billboards, it would be just as distracting as the approved plan, a notion board member Karen Giffen dismissed.

“Plants don’t emit light,” she said.

Planning Board member Susan Engelhardt, who is an architect and did graduate studies in planning at Rutgers, said “I’ve been here almost 13 years” and the previous hearing on the billboard plan “was one of the rudest examples in front of this board.” Engelhardt said the billboard developer appeared sometimes  “unprepared” and unable to provide renderings as requested. "Overall, I am so disappointed … I think this is one of the nastiest applications … that we’ve ever had.”

But Engelhardt said that wouldn’t influence her decision.

“Luckily, I’m not voting on whether you were rude or not,” Engelhardt said. “I’m voting on whether you meet the Land Use Law requirements. So you’re lucky about that.”

Board member Edna Pedrick said, “I do feel (the billboards) could be a hazard. My conscience is bothering me.”

Pedrick voted for the plan along with Board members Jim Hill, Michael Campion, Cook and Engelhardt.

Marc Hain and Giffen voted against the plan. Board member Gregory Townsend resigned from the board prior to the meeting; David Norton was named to replace him, but didn’t vote.