PEABODY — Some people are beginning to think those enormous billboards going up all over Peabody might be flashing dollar signs.
But if they are a potential windfall, it’s one being approached with misgivings.
“I grew up in West Saugus,” City Councilor Bob Driscoll said at a recent meeting. “We used to have the corner on visual pollution. Saugus was always recognized as the most visually polluted town in Massachusetts. And we’re getting that way.”
Mayor Ted Bettencourt sees the downside of signs — big signs, little signs, flashing signs, electronic signs. And he concedes that Peabody is uniquely attractive to billboard companies because so many major highways run through it.
But the mayor is supporting a change in zoning that would both control the spread of billboards and turn them to the city’s advantage.
“It’s a tool we can use to potentially raise some money,” he said.
Currently, it costs $10,000 for a billboard permit and $2,000 per year to keep it. A little research revealed that other municipalities earn far more. Thus, the new proposal is slated to dramatically up the cost of the permit to $15,000 for a “static” billboard (the old-fashioned type) and $25,000 for an electronic billboard.
Each year, the permit holder will be required to pay the same amount to keep the billboard.
The need to change the zoning came when the courts overturned a City Council vote last summer to prohibit construction of a billboard off Lowell Street near Interstate 95. That decision may have long-term implications.
“We have a whole bunch of these before us,” Councilor Barry Osborne said. “It’s a big issue.”
He sees the new zoning giving the city more clout — the ability to say no to some signs and still prevail in court.
Additionally, under the new regime, it would be more difficult to construct a billboard on streets like Route 114, for example. Instead, the often-massive signs would go “on our highways,” according to Bettencourt, “on Route 1 and Route 95 where there’s no residential impact. ... I’m not in favor of any sign where a resident can look out their window and see it.”