Billboard Study Adding Fuel to Billboard Fire in Revere

Those living next to billboards have never liked being under their shadow, but until now, no one has ever been able to put a figure on just what that shadow costs a homeowner.

A study of the impacts of billboards on property values – released this past December by a Philadelphia researcher – is now being used in the local fight against billboard expansion, and its results show a meaningful loss in value for those close to outdoor advertising displays.

The “Philadelphia Study” – as it’s being called – came to light through the research of Revere Beautification Committee (RBC) member Ron Champoux and City Councillors Bob Haas and Brian Arrigo.

During a discussion last month of a specific billboard proposed for Copeland Circle, many began to wonder whether such things affected property values. The vocal opponents and the vocal proponents realized that conjecture was not adequate, and they needed real figures.

“At the public hearing that Monday night, I didn’t know if there was any information about property values and it made me want to find out,” said Champoux. “I came across this study and the findings are pretty interesting.”

The study, called ‘Beyond Aesthetics: How Billboards Affect Economic Prosperity,’ was funded by the non-partisan Samuel Fels Fund of Philadelphia at the request of an anti-billboard group called SCRUBS. Researcher Jonathan Snyder performed the study throughout Philadelphia last summer, and presented the study this past December.

Among his findings were that all properties within 500 feet of a billboard in Philadelphia suffered a $30,000 decrease in property values upon their sale.

Snyder told the Journal that the study was a statistical analysis using Regression Analysis and the decrease caused by billboards was statistically significant.

“Properties purchased within 500 feet of billboards have a decrease in sale price of $30,826 and the correlation is statistically significant,” read the study.

Snyder said in a telephone interview this week that the one thing that affects sale price most is the amount of livable square footage, naturally. The second thing to affect the price was proximity to amenities like bike paths, libraries and parks. In the negative, billboards were not far behind.

“We looked at independent variables and what led to higher or lower prices,” he said. “The strongest variable was livable square footage. That, of course, was obvious; the bigger your property, the more expensive. Another strong variable was proximity to parks, bike trails and other amenities – all positive increases. When you added the independent variable for proximity to billboards, it wasn’t as strong a relationship as square footage was, but it still had a negative affect. It was somewhere close to a $31,000 loss…Billboards do make a difference.”

Additionally, the study looked at zoning controls on billboards in 20 major U.S. cities. Comparing the zoning restrictions on outdoor advertising in seven different categories, the study classified each city as either “strict” or “not strict.”

In those cities that were not strict on their zoning controls of billboards, the study found that the median income was lower, poverty rates were higher and home vacancy rates were higher.

Opponents to the findings of the study – such as Clear Channel Outdoor, one of the largest billboard owners in America – told the Journal that they don’t necessarily agree with the study.

“We respectfully dispute the findings of the study, but more importantly, billboards play a critical role in effectively promoting local businesses, which is part of building strong local economies,” said Jim Cullinan, a spokesman for Clear Channel, in a statement. “Beyond that, we won’t comment on the study.”

Meanwhile, other executives in the billboard industry indicated that there is a similar independent study coming out in a few weeks that is funded by the billboard industry and comes to a different conclusion.

“That study has been going on for the last year and is due out within the next two weeks,” said the source. “It has a strongly different viewpoint on this.”

Meanwhile, back in Revere, City Councillor Haas said that the billboard issue has suddenly become the largest issue in the city, and he is responding.

“I’ve been in this game a long time and of all the issues, this issues has become paramount,” he said. “People are really ticked off about billboards in Revere right now. They’ve been here for years, but we’re talking about quality of life and billboards right now.”

Haas said he has asked City Clerk Ashley Melnik to gather zoning ordinances concerning billboards from several surrounding communities. Once that information is in hand, Haas said the Council will use it to see where Revere might be able to make changes, maybe where the City can be more strict with its controls on signage.

Meanwhile, Snyder said he hopes that his study continues to inform such discussions and, perhaps, spark more study of the issue.

“I do hope it stimulates the discussion beyond just dollars and sense arguments for billboards in a community and aesthetic arguments against billboards in a community,” he said. “I think the study gives, in a real way, a recognizable monetary figure for an aesthetic argument. I hope it stimulates the discussion so that people can examine whether billboards really contribute as a whole to a local economy as some would say they do. I also hope it leads to more research because not much has been done on this.”

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