By Ryan W. Briggs
Steen Outdoor Advertising was able to get an over-the-counter L&I permit to convert a billboard outside Peter Kendierski's loft because
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A new zoning code is on track for adoption by Council later this year. Perhaps an indication of how contentious the signage matter has become is that Council has scheduled separate hearings on the portion of the new zoning code that would effect signs. The first public hearings will be today [June 12th] and since Council will soon recess for the summer this will delay passage of the entire new code in Council until at least this Fall.
Members of the Zoning Reform Commission, say the new code will theoretically bring digital signage into fold and include incentives for advertising companies to permanently remove old and outdated billboards. For every old sign removed, a billboard company would get credits that can be accumulated to get a new board in a new -- and more desirable -- location.
Sounds great - in theory. But Mary Tracy, longtime opponent of the outdoor advertising industry and head of Scenic Philadelphia, fears that a new "credit system" for dealing with billboards will only lead to the creation of new, more obtrusive billboards in prominent locations. She believes outdoor advertisers are already exerting influence over the zoning reform process.
"We're seeing definite language that would have come from them," said
Eva Gladstein, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Zoning Code Commission, says that the new code is simply trying to facilitate the removal of the billboards that citizens - and Scenic Philadelphia - have cited as the biggest nuisances. Specifically, those that dot
"We've created a system where you provide a greater incentive to remove signs from those same neighborhoods where Scenic Philadelphia has been very critical of having signs," said Gladstein.
"The current zoning code has a 1 to 1 replacement ratio, so to put up one new sign, you have to take down one sign. Now, you'll get more credit for removing a sign from a neighborhood corridor than, say, I-95, and likewise you will need more credit to put up a digital sign than a non-digital sign," she added, reiterating the importance of the new code's regulation of digital displays on billboards.
Gladstein says the Commission has to balance the interests of all parties involved. "There was an internal working group of a number of different city agencies and stakeholders that deal with zoning and signage - from small businesses to the people who manufacture signs to civic associations and people who own and manage outdoor advertising companies - so many different points of view and we had to be fair to all those various points of view," she said.
"In general this new chapter of the zoning code would depress the amount of signage that is permitted as opposed the old zoning code. In pretty much every zoning district, across the board, the amount of signage that would be permitted is less," added Gladstein.
The new Zoning is still just a draft, and nothing is set in stone - yet. For now, Scenic Philadelphia is on guard for subtle changes in each draft.
"I don't know exactly how much influence [advertisers] are exerting, but, I think the sign industry always wants more. They've already said publicly they want new areas they can put signs and a new definition of how they can place signs," said
With the first zoning hearings set to begin, the future of advertising in