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November 29, 2012

City OKs billboard, despite new rules

PEABODY — It will be clearly visible to nearby residents and sit alongside Route 128.

So why has the City Council approved a new, 50-foot-high, 14-by-48-foot billboard on the property of Northshore Mall?

The approval came Tuesday night in the wake of new zoning regulations proposed by Mayor Ted Bettencourt, regulations that were designed specifically to prevent construction of billboards that residents could see from their homes or that would be located anywhere other than Route 1 and Interstate 95.

Councilor Anne Manning-Martin tried to block the billboard, citing exactly those points.

“I’m not in favor of this,” she said. “This is not the area we designated. ... This is right across the street from Terrace Estates. ... This will be a beacon that they could stare at. I don’t think they will enjoy that.”

Last summer, the courts overturned a City Council decision to reject a billboard between Route 1 and I-95, but Manning-Martin stressed that the judge in that case went to Lowell Street and saw that there were other billboards in the vicinity.

“If we were to deny this one and the judge drives down to that area, I don’t think he would see similar signs,” she said.

All this happens as the state is promulgating new regulations for billboards, a fact that has spurred multiple requests for signs. Moreover, there are concerns that Peabody, which is intersected by three major highways, is in danger of being overwhelmed by intrusive billboards.

Several councilors, including Bob Driscoll and Barry Sinewitz, have spoken out about billboards, with Sinewitz expressing concern over what messages they might carry and Driscoll warning against a Saugus-like explosion of roadside ads and “visual pollution.”

Nevertheless, Manning-Martin was unable to win a single vote to her side.

It was Driscoll who cited the importance of accommodating the Northshore Mall, one of the city’s largest employers and taxpayers. Not cited was the fact that under new rules, the city will collect $15,000 per year for each “static” billboard and $25,000 for electronic boards.

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