Residents of Lower Providence Township may be surprised to know that action was taken regarding a billboard project that previously had stirred quite a bit of controversy. The subject was a surprise to the public, as it was not marked on the Lower Providence Township Board of Supervisor’s April 3 agenda.
Township Solicitor John B. Rice, Esq. presented supervisors with an update that, according to him, as in the hands of the property owner until Tuesday, April 2. The owner had requested it be discussed as new business at the Wednesday, April 3 meeting.
“This is an amendment to an existing settlement appeal from the zoning hearing board’s approval of a billboard at 2650 Audubon Road,” said Rice. “The billboard was approved at the time, but was only permitted to have a digital ad on one side, and static on the other.”
The request from the property owner, who was unnamed at the public meeting, asked that digital displays of ads and information be permitted on both sides of the sign.
“We’ve been discussing this with the property owner, and he has agreed to grant the township access to the digital billboard to advertise our events,” said Rice. The board would be asked to incorporate this new amendment to the currently approved settlement agreement.
Previously, the topic was a matter of great public debate and passed through the planning commission upon first rounds. The Board of Supervisors at the time (containing members different from today’s board) decided to challenge the decision, citing reasons of safety and beautification for its decision.
The matter was sent to the courts and the current settlement agreement was decided upon, allowing the owner to broadcast advertising on only one side of the board. This amendment, if passed, would allow both sides to now display digital advertisements.
“This would still have to be approved by the courts and the zoning hearing board,” explained Rice. Despite the future hurdles, one township supervisor still did not feel comfortable allowing such a huge topic of interest to be discussed without properly advertising the matter to the public.
“These billboards, the erection of them originally, was of great interest to members of this community,” said Supervisor Don Thomas. “I would ask that we add this as an agenda item for a future meeting so we may hear the changes to this agreement then, rather than go through them tonight and again. This has not been advertised.”
Colleen Eckman, chairwoman for the supervisors, noted that this was not the final word on this matter.
“This is just the first step of the public process,” said Eckman.
“We are not required to advertise this, as it is a matter of policy, for this board,” said Rice. “Billboards are always a controversial matter no matter where they go, but this billboard was approved.”
The board members agreed that, despite the lack of advertisement, they would like to hear the changes, though Thomas continued to disagree in the matter.
Rice explained that the major changes would allow for digital display on the second side with the addition of the township being granted the use of the sign’s space.
“We would be permitted sign space six weeks of the year, one side of the board, in six weekly displays,” said Rice. “These would be one-week increments, with a maximum of three designs.”
The display advertising would be provided by Louisiana-based Lamar, the advertising agency that operates the sign.
“Lamar would work with the township staff, free of charge on the artwork, and they would design it, in terms of our advertised events,” said Rice.
The township would also be permitted to have access to the sign during emergency situations, such as traffic, weather, Amber Alerts or major local emergency situations. Rice suggested a minor change to the amendment, only to allow that if Lamar would no longer be the providing advertising agency, that the township would still be granted access to its successor.
“The board’s motion would be to approve the amendment upon my review, and for me to sign it on behalf of the board,” said Rice. Rice said that he, the township manager, Richard Gestrich, and director of special projects and technology, Bill Roth, had previously sat down with the sign’s owners to discuss such changes.
“We met about a month ago, negotiated the additional terms, including the terms to access the sign in an emergency,” said Rice. “It is strictly up to the board to approve it or not.”
Following a vote, the amendment would return to a judge for a final approval.
“I feel there a lot of issues at play here,” said Thomas. “We have issues of traffic, safety. There will be a new on ramp right there, with people at high rates of speed entering 422. I just think we should discuss this and allow a little more airing to the public before we make a decision.”
Supervisor Patrick Duffy asked if the township had any current messaging system in that vicinity, when it came to alerting the public about emergency situations. Lower Providence Police Chief Francis L. Carroll said the township did not.
“We have no privately owned marquis, other than the one at the end of the [township building’s] driveway,” said Carroll.
Supervisor Vice-Chairman Jason Sorgini stated that, because the issue would also have to be heard by the zoning hearing board, he was comfortable moving for a vote Thursday night.
With Sorgini making a motion to vote, and Duffy seconding it, the motion was put to a vote. With Supervisor Jill Zimmerman absent for the meeting, the amendment was passed in a 3-1 vote, with only Thomas in disagreement.
The zoning hearing board meets on the fourth Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. The next schedule meeting would be slated for Thursday, April 24.