, Salem, MA

February 1, 2013

Mayor: Take billboard down

Peabody: Officials say Lowell Street pole with sign is an 'eyesore' that's in the wrong spot

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — The erection of a pole supporting a double billboard on Lowell Street in Peabody has brought swift action from city officials, who say it’s been placed in the wrong spot.

“As we speak, the building inspector is issuing a cease-and-desist order,” Mayor Ted Bettencourt said yesterday. “I want the pole taken down, and I want the pole put behind the building where it’s supposed to be.”

In its current position, at the side of a building set to become a Subway restaurant, it looms over Lowell Street, although its supposed intent was to be seen from Route 1.

Its appearance provoked a sharp reaction from city officials.

“This is a monstrosity,” City Councilor Anne Manning-Martin said. “It’s a 90-foot, steel eyesore that was probably put in the wrong spot, and I want to know why. I’m going to do my best to find out why.”

The request to construct the pole was originally denied by the City Council in May. But Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead voided the ruling following a visit to the area. He indicated that the council had treated the request unfairly because there are already plenty of signs in the vicinity, including what many consider a garish advertisement for the child-oriented Bonkers restaurant.

“It dwarfs the Bonkers sign,” Manning-Martin said of the new structure. “The argument was that it was going to be pushed back, way back, and it would not be seen from Lowell Street.”

In issuing his cease-and-desist order, the mayor cited language from City Council hearings and the court, language that he says backs up the contention that the pole should have been placed behind the building at Lowell Street, out of sight. Drawings of the site show the same thing, he said.

The mayor believes the city has a strong case.

“I can’t believe it is where it is,” said council President Tom Gould, noting that it towers over Lowell Street.

The council rejected the pole and sign last May, with six votes in favor and five opposed to a special permit. For approval, eight positive votes were needed.

“We didn’t feel it fit in the neighborhood,” said Manning-Martin, who fears it can now be seen clearly from nearby homes.

Located directly across from Bourbon Street, the pole and sign support (no sign has yet been installed) drew the attention of Jenna Preman, who lives at the nearby Wedgewood Condominiums.

“Isn’t it ridiculous?” she exclaimed, while noting that it can be seen from her neighborhood several blocks away.

Preman recounted how signs have proliferated since she came to the area several years ago.

“When I first moved here, there wasn’t even a light here,” she said, pointing to the traffic signals flashing green at the end of Bourbon Street.

Ledgewood residents plan a meeting over this latest intrusion, she added. “It’s obscene.”

The judge’s decision to overrule the council led to a wholesale rewrite of the city’s zoning rules for highway signs, effectively barring them except on Route 1 and Interstate 95. Bettencourt stated that he did not want billboards located where they could be seen from residential areas.

Councilor Dave Gamache, who initially supported construction of the pole and sign, expressed disappointment in the final result.

“I thought the sign was supposed to be placed in the rear of the building,” he said, “but it’s ‘on top’ of the building.”

Gamache believes the owners of the sign, Total Outdoor Corp. of Beverly, mistakenly submitted the wrong plan to the building inspector’s office, with the result that it was placed in the wrong spot.

“Obviously, it’s pretty unsightly,” said Councilor Barry Osborne, who also supported the sign in May. “It’s very unfortunate. It’s more than I anticipated. I didn’t think it would be that intrusive. You live and learn.”

Total Outdoor Corp. could not be reached for comment yesterday.