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October 15, 2012

Peabody seeks more control over billboards

(Continued)

This won’t always be possible, he said, but it remains a goal of the zoning change.

In September, the new zoning easily won preliminary approval from the council. Public hearings are now slated for the Planning Board, which meets Thursday, and the council at a later date.

Approval might have something to do with the money. In promoting this, Bettencourt stressed the need for additional “streams of income” for a city currently rebuilding a middle school and renovating its downtown.

Despite their vote, city councilors approached the measure with mixed feelings. Councilor Barry Sinewitz showed some distaste for the notion of making money off the signs.

“Now I understand why we want the billboards,” he exclaimed sarcastically. “With $25,000 for one, $15,000 for another.”

He recalled quitting the city’s Sign Review Board in disgust some years ago after the appearance of a “throbbing toe sign” on Route 114, a billboard he’d been unable to stop.

Several councilors cited the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, promoted by the wife of President Lyndon Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson. The measure banned billboards and signs along federal highways. One unintended consequence of the act, however, is the practice of putting up massive poles on adjacent private land to support huge signs that can still be seen from the highway.

Councilor Anne Manning-Martin expressed a resolve to apply the intent of the Highway Beautification Act to the city of Peabody and to “keep our city as beautiful as Lady Bird Johnson intended.”

Driscoll expressed some doubts over why so many people want to put up signs at all, insisting that he doesn’t look at them and doesn’t know what they’re selling.

“I don’t think they’re as great a marketing tool as people think they are,” he said.

The change in zoning aimed at billboards is part of a larger effort to address legal difficulties arising from last year’s revamping of the city’s zoning. Several changes are now in the offing in response to lawsuits and potential lawsuits.

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