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February 13, 2014

Peabody mayor signs onto billboard moratorium

PEABODY — Enough already. That seems to be the sentiment of Mayor Ted Bettencourt when it comes to billboards. In a letter to the City Council, he endorsed a recent proposal to enact a moratorium on the construction of the signs in Peabody.

The council is scheduled to discuss the proposed moratorium tonight.

“I believe that we as a city have reached a point of saturation,” Bettencourt wrote, suggesting that recently approved billboards, including two slated for city land, should trigger a reassessment of the city’s billboard policy for the future.

In 2012, Bettencourt introduced a zoning plan to restrict billboards to Route 1 and Interstate 95 to keep them out of view of residential neighbors and to dramatically increase the yearly fee charged for billboards. The yearly fee for an electronic billboard, for example, is now $25,000, with another $25,000 required for construction.

More recently, the mayor has promoted a plan to lease two pieces of city land along Interstate 95 to billboard companies in hopes of earning as much as $700,000 for the lease.

In his letter, Bettencourt pointed to Peabody’s desirability as a location for billboards, at the nexus of Routes 1 and 128 and I-95. He also explained his earlier support for some of the signs, which can soar as high as 90 feet.

“With the economy still struggling to pick up steam and state aid to Peabody projected to fall, our shared efforts to generate sorely needed revenue through billboard advertising were both-well placed and well-intentioned,” he wrote.

City Councilor Tom Gould, who made the motion to explore the idea of a moratorium, welcomed the mayor’s support. But he cautioned that a moratorium might not be easily achieved. With the recent rush of companies eager to place signs in Peabody, the city has been bedeviled by court challenges that haven’t always gone its way.

“We welcome anybody’s support, especially the mayor’s,” Gould said. To establish a moratorium, he added, “We need to figure out if we need to rezone.”

The council supported the effort to lease city land for two billboards, by a vote of 9 to 1, with Councilor Anne Manning-Martin opposed. She said the move would make billboard-weary Peabody residents furious.

Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com.

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