Haas Seeks Billboard Moratorium

City Councillor Bob Haas jumped to the front of the overall billboard issue, and did so by taking a page from the playbook of former Councillor George V. Colella – a staunch opponent of billboards during his tenure.

Haas led off his charge with the raw numbers (something Colella used to frequently revert to) and those numbers don’t look good in Revere.

In calling for a one-year moratorium on all billboards, Haas told his colleagues that Revere has 84 billboards currently in place. That compares to 25 in Chelsea, 36 in Everett, 17 in Saugus and 68 in Lynn.

“I think it’s time this City Council sat down and addressed billboards in our community,” said Haas on Monday night. “We really need to review what we have now…We have 84. That’s way beyond any abutting communities. Nobody is taking billboards away, but I think we have to look at the controls we have. We have to sit down before people come in and request permits to have something here or something there. These things affect the quality of life in our city – no question about it.”

Haas’s motion officially calls for City Planner Frank Stringi to assist the Council in studying new dimensional controls and zoning locations for billboards. The purpose would be to tighten up the City’s zoning ordinances in relation to billboards. Currently, the zoning ordinances are pretty lax in addressing such signs.

While that study is underway, Haas is calling that a moratorium on all new billboards be put in place until May 6, 2013.

Haas and members of the Revere Beautification Committee (RBC) cited a 2011 study done on the effects of billboards and property values.

“They found that single-family homes within 500 feet of a billboard lost, on average, about $30,000 in value,” said Haas.

Said Ron Champoux of the RBC, “The results of the study are so dramatic. You’d be tripping over them if you didn’t understand the costs.”

City Councillor Brian Arrigo sided with Haas, and said he found that Revere could certainly add several dimensional controls to its billboard regulations.

“It’s no surprise that housing vacancy rates are lower and poverty rates are lower and incomes are higher in communities where there are more strict billboard rules,” said Arrigo. “I do think it’s a good idea to look at billboards and the controls we have, especially before casino gaming comes to town.”

Council President Richard Penta said he also agreed with Haas’s idea to look at billboard regulations in the city.

“I think it’s good,” he said. “When there’s 84 in the city, you have to think about it. There is a place for some things and other times there is not.”

Councillor Tony Zambuto said he would support the idea to an extent, saying that the moratorium would have to be focused and for a much shorter period of time to meet muster with zoning law.

“If you want to do this legally – and there is all kinds of case law on this – you have to say how long it would take to do the specific study,” he said. “I don’t think it would take more than a month to do a study. I would go along with a moratorium until August 2012. Then we wouldn’t be breaking the law or circumventing the zoning ordinances…It’s the law we have to follow here.”

The billboard issue exploded on the scene last month after a hiatus of several years.

The impetus was a proposal by Vincent Giacchetti to locate a 50-ft.-tall, double-sided, billboard in the back of the Four Points Sheraton property at Copeland Circle.

Several neighbors from the Ward 6 area, and some nearby abutters, voiced extreme disapproval of the plan, as did the RBC. Councillors, for the most part, opted to keep an open mind about the proposal at a public hearing late last month.

Since that time, though, public outcry has changed the winds, with several councillors coming out against the plan in recent weeks.

That specific billboard issue has now led to an overall assessment of the City’s existing billboards as well as its zoning ordinances concerning billboards – an effort being led by Haas and Ward 6 Councillor Charlie Patch.

In addition to Haas’s motion on Monday, Patch put in a separate motion calling for the City to examine all of the existing billboards and enforce an ordinance designed to improve the aesthetics of billboards – an ordinance championed a few years back by former Councillor George Rotondo.

Patch said the ordinance allows the City to ticket billboard companies whose billboards are in disrepair or whose billboards are not displaying current advertisements.

“Most of them are rusted and aren’t painted and some have old ads flapping in the wind; it doesn’t look like anyone maintains them,” he said.

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