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June 25, 2013

Sign flap may head back to council

Peabody: Judge mulls sending case for a new hearing

It could be a case of “be careful what you wish for” for a sign company under fire for erecting a massive billboard that looms over Interstate 95 — but also over nearby homes and condos off Lowell Street in Peabody.

A Salem Superior Court judge said yesterday that he’s leaning toward granting Total Outdoor Corp’s request for relief from the judgment he entered in their favor last summer — a judgment the firm acknowledged earlier this year was based on inaccurate information it had given to him about the sign’s planned location.

But instead of simply altering his original ruling to reflect where the company wanted to put the sign, as the sign company’s lawyer urged, Judge Howard Whitehead said he is considering sending the entire case back to the Peabody City Council for a new hearing.

A ruling is expected within a day or two, said the judge.

Michael Ross, one of the lawyers representing the sign company, complained that it’s unlikely the city would approve any plan by the company now, after more than a year of contentious debate and legal wrangling, and that the judge should simply impose a new judgment. But Whitehead disagreed.

“If the (city) council didn’t matter, people would just come straight to court,” said the judge. Now the community would have a much better idea of the impact of the proposal, which also includes altering the angle of the signs at the top of the pole, said the judge.

The 92-foot sign went up last winter near the junction of Lowell Street and Route 95, but city officials said they had been led to believe it would be erected behind a Subway franchise, not in front of it.

And during a hearing in March, Whitehead noted that the sign, as built, was not where he envisioned it, based on the plan he had been shown during a brief, stipulated-fact trial last summer.

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