By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — Her effort to stop the city from leasing land for two billboards went down 9-1 on Jan. 23, but City Councilor Anne Manning Martin predicted that residents would be furious.
In fact, she’s counting on councilors getting an earful and is asking for reconsideration of the vote at the Feb. 6 meeting.
“I have been contacted by dozens of constituents upset about this,” she told The News. “And I’m hoping, given time to think about the vote, that my colleagues will have had a change of heart.”
The reconsideration process allows for no debate, City Clerk Tim Spanos said, just a simple vote on whether to reopen the issue.
Although they voted in favor of leases along Route 128, mostly out of sight for residents, councilors are generally fed up with the proliferation of billboards in Peabody. The city is especially vulnerable, because so many highways pass through.
Some councilors are the exception, however, including Ward 3 Councilor Jim Moutsoulas. He sees the structures as a sign of prosperity.
“I think more are coming,” he told colleagues. “And I’ll tell you that I really don’t have a problem with them.”
Nor has he gotten calls complaining about them, he added. “I’ll tell you what bothers me. I go through Peabody Square and I don’t see signs.”
He concluded that billboards are “a plus for the city.” Owners must pay up to $25,000 per year per billboard.
Lawyer Jack Keilty thinks he may have caught the City Council with its defenses down. A bylaw restricting the height of billboards to 60 feet may have been nullified due to a clerical error. “In regards to 60 feet, there is no provision currently,” City Clerk Tim Spanos said.
Keilty pointed to a recent permit allowing Total Outdoor Corp. a billboard off Route 1 that he was required to reduce to 60 feet. He speculated that the agreement could now be undone.
The council will meet to repair the clerical stumble. Councilor Anne Manning Martin recalled that when the Lowell Street billboard was constructed in the wrong place, Total Outdoor lawyers went to court pleading there had been — you guessed it — a clerical error.
They didn’t serve green eggs and ham, but Mayor Ted Bettencourt got a poetic welcome before the Chamber of Commerce yesterday. Michelle Talisman, chairwoman of the chamber board, introduced the mayor with verses from Dr. Seuss’s “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.”
“And will you succeed
Yes! You will indeed
98 and three-quarter percent guaranteed.”
“How am I going to top that?” the mayor asked.
The point was to promise a 100 percent guarantee, chamber president Deanne Healey indicated later, with the chamber eager to help with the remaining 11/4 percent. (That’s not the tax rate.)
A difference at Making a Difference
The Making a Difference in Peabody Foundation will be making a bigger difference in a new location, according to founder and president Scott Frasca.
“We’ve bought a building downtown at 49 Lowell St.,” he said. A ribbon-cutting was held yesterday at the new spot, which is not far from City Hall.
Frasca will have a bigger role, working 30 hours per week at the foundation, which raises money to assist those in need with clothing, heating oil, toys for kids and aid for victims of fires. The new building will also provide space in its Innovation Center for people looking for work or starting out in business.
“We work with all the other nonprofits,” Frasca said. “... We fill a gap.”
The charity raised more than $45,000 last year, and Frasca, who will earn $25 per hour, hopes to increase that dramatically in 2014.