PEABODY — As he drove down Lowell Street in Peabody for the first time after a controversial 92-foot-tall billboard was erected near Route 1 and Interstate 95 recently, Salem Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead was puzzled.
“I said to myself, ‘Wow, that looms over the street in a way I did not envision,’” Whitehead told lawyers for the sign’s owner and the city of Peabody during a hearing yesterday. “It’s much closer to the street than I envisioned it. I thought it was going to be behind the building.”
That may be, the lawyer for the sign’s owner acknowledged, because that’s what the judge was told when he reversed the Peabody City Council’s decision to deny a permit for the sign last August.
“There was one plan submitted with the application (for a special permit) ... that has the sign located exactly where it is today,” give or take 5 feet, Total Outdoor Corp. attorney Michael Ford told the judge. “What happened here with regard to trial counsel, an earlier plan, never submitted to the city, was erroneously attached.”
That earlier plan, Ford said, called for the pole to be on the side of the building closest to Interstate 95. And that’s what was given to the judge in a package of evidence last summer.
But Ford also tried to convince the judge that the discrepancy doesn’t matter, because the pole was erected exactly where the company intended for it to go — which happens to be exactly where the Peabody City Council and hundreds of neighbors didn’t want it when the council denied Total Outdoor a permit last May.
Ford and the sign company are trying to convince Whitehead that the discrepancy amounts to nothing more than a clerical error and that the judge should simply amend his ruling to reflect the actual location where the sign was erected in January. Besides, Ford argued, the sign is already up, at a cost of as much as $300,000, and it would likely cost at least that much to move it, causing the company “irrevocable harm.”