, Salem, MA

April 11, 2013

No deal on Peabody billboard

Council rejects company's offer to move sign to rear of Lowell Street building

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — It doesn’t matter where you plant it, the Peabody City Council doesn’t want the Total Outdoor Corp. billboard on Lowell Street.

In a closed-door meeting last night, the board unanimously rejected an offer from Total Outdoor to move the 92-foot structure to the rear of an adjacent building now housing a Subway eatery.

Further, they voted unanimously to conduct all further discussions revolving around the controversial sign in public.

Councilors first rejected the billboard last summer, but Total Outdoor took them to Superior Court, where Judge Howard Whitehead overruled the council and allowed the towering monopole to be constructed. After it went up, however, city officials realized that it wasn’t where Total Outdoor had told the judge it was going.

In fact, it was much closer to Lowell Street, and Peabody residents reacted with shocked dismay at the sight. Mayor Ted Bettencourt issued a cease-and-desist order. Total Outdoor pleaded an honest mistake and complained that moving the pole will cost $250,000.

Whitehead, who admitted the structure wasn’t quite what he envisioned, declined to remove the mayor’s order and allow advertising to go up.

That led to two offers to the city by Total Outdoor to settle the matter. First, it suggested housing the bottom portion of the pole in a building.

Last night, the council heard a plan to move it behind the building, in the direction the company had indicated to the judge it was always intended to go.

Both offers have been rejected. Last night’s decision was announced by Council President Tom Gould during the regular, open meeting. Members were tight-lipped about the details, noting that the rules of an “executive session” require secrecy.

“We’re not going to approve what we denied in the first place,” member Dave Gamache said. “The judge gave him the location. We didn’t.”

“I sense the council is unified in its opposition,” said Councilor Jim Liacos, who made both motions during the closed meeting and who has expressed his intention of rejecting the pole regardless of where it goes. “The feeling is that the council denied this in the beginning. But I can’t tell you how many people think we allowed that pole.”

The vote came after the Total Outdoor offer was explained by City Solicitor Michael Smerczynski. He told councilors, however, that the decision on how to proceed was entirely theirs.

Gould indicated that he expects this to return to court. Asked about the next step, he replied, “It’s up to Judge Whitehead.”

The two unanimous votes were 8-0, with Anne Manning-Martin, Rico Mello and Barry Osborne absent.