SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

August 27, 2013

Council won't sign off on sign

Company says it would cost $250K to move it

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — It’s your serve, Total Outdoor Corp.

Last Thursday, the City Council stated, via a 10-1 vote, that it does not want the 92-foot Total Outdoor pole and billboard on Lowell Street — not even if it’s moved behind the Subway restaurant, down an incline and some distance from the street.

In doing so, the board seemed to brush past misgivings from City Solicitor Michael Smerczynski, leaving Total Outdoor the option of going back to Salem Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead.

“We’re the people that decide what to do in our city,” council President Tom Gould said in an interview, “and we gave a strong response.”

“We don’t like the sign,” Councilor Dave Gravel said. “Why should we vote for it?”

Residents, who were represented at Thursday’s hearing, criticized the sign from its earliest appearance as a blight on their neighborhood.

The judge ruled last fall that the council had no right to deny the needed special permit when it first rejected the billboard. But Total Outdoor made the mistake of then erecting the pole some distance from where Whitehead indicated it should go. That brought a cease-and-desist order from the city, which the judge upheld before indicating that the company needed to go back to Peabody and make its case before the council again.

That happened on Thursday with the same result as before.

“I guess they’ll go back to court,” Gould said. He conceded that he had the impression, after listening to Smerczynski, that the judge is likely to “grant them some relief.”

This time, on the other hand, the council included in its decision specific reasons why the sign should be rejected. With the legal case handled by the city’s full-time lawyer, all the litigation is not likely to cost the city, Gravel said.

Even so, Councilor Dave Gamache, the lone vote in favor of allowing the pole, believes the council decision was, at best, a waste of time.

“We’ll probably have it handed back to us by the judge. ... They [the councilors] disregarded his opinion and told the judge to go pound sand.”

Showing disrespect for the judge’s decision does not bode well, Gamache indicated. Nor does he believe this will take very long.

“We know it’s going to come back real fast,” he said.

But Gravel said the judge’s original decision “usurped the council.” This time, he hopes the judge will appreciate the reasons presented for turning down the sign, including the fact it does not fit into the neighborhood and that there are better uses for the property. In any case, he does not believe the judge’s next ruling can be predicted, making all this worth the effort.

“No matter what, I think they should take down the sign.” Gravel said. He wondered why it hadn’t been taken down already (no advertisements have been allowed on it), given that neither the judge nor the council has approved its current location.

Simply moving the pole will cost the company $250,000, according to Total Outdoor lawyers.

Staff writer Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com.