By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — “It’s a sign of the times,” City Councilor Dave Gamache said as the city approved its first and second electronic billboards on Route 1.
But the times notwithstanding, the vote was taken with some misgivings.
Slapped down by the courts in a previous effort to restrict the number of billboards in Peabody, the City Council unanimously approved these signs last Thursday. But by the time they got to a third, static billboard for Route 1, member Barry Sinewitz could no longer contain his doubts.
He cited state rules requiring that electronic billboards be 1,000 feet apart and static billboards 500 feet apart. He wondered what the expected changes in state regulations will mean for decisions made now.
“We’re approving billboards haphazardly,” he complained. “How can we approve this when we don’t know if it’s legal?”
There were doubts expressed on whether the 1,000-foot limit included both sides of the highway. A representative from the billboard company, Clear Channel Outdoor, told the council that it did.
Sinewitz asked that the vote be postponed until the city’s community development department charts exactly where the billboards are going and how far one will be from another.
Ironically, Sinewitz had voted for both of the electronic billboards — one is an existing billboard being replaced by an electronic sign. He finally balked when it came to a new static billboard, defined as a traditional billboard sign illuminated with spotlights.
“I just feel like I’m voting on something not even knowing what the zoning is,” he said.
In the past, Sinewitz has been an outspoken critic of billboards, noting with displeasure the appearance of the city’s first electronic sign years ago at a Route 114 office. It came complete with an image of a “throbbing foot.”
Dave Gamache, whose ward contains all the Route 1 billboards, saw no difficulties. He referred colleagues to electronic signs already on Route 93 in Stoneham and Medford. Well-defined and colorful images, clearly visible day and night, flash on and off, allowing the sign to advertise multiple products.
“It’s like pushing a button on the remote control,” Gamache said. “I’m highly in favor of it.”
The second sign, from Total Outdoor Corp. drew a complaint from resident Barry Poretsky of Heatherwood Lane, who said it will be too tall.
In response, Gamache noted there is a height restriction. He also quoted another resident who had contacted him, and who “really believes this is not going to be detrimental to the neighborhood.”
The city’s new billboard zoning is designed to limit the signs to Route 1 and Interstate 95. Peabody is considered a prime location by billboard companies, because so many highways go through it.