By SCOTT JACKSON
Residents and elected officials from Quincy and Braintree spoke out against a proposed digital billboard that would be located along Route 3 in Quincy. Members of the board vetting the proposal were also skeptical of the idea.
Quincy’s Zoning Board of Appeals held a public hearing Tuesday on the request of the John Flatley Company for a variance to construct the new digital billboard at 1 Crown Drive, which is located within the Elevation apartment complex at Crown Colony. The board did not vote on the proposal that evening and will discuss the matter again on Aug. 10.
The proposed billboard, which would be 35 feet tall, would face toward Route 3 and Braintree. It would replace an existing billboard already on site.
“We are essentially seeking to replace the signage that exists there today, the static sign that exists there today, with a new digital sign,” said Edward Fleming, the attorney representing the John Flatley Company at the hearing.
While the developer is seeking permission to build the new billboard, a provision in Quincy’s municipal code prohibits the construction of new billboards and also prevents the ZBA from granting a variance for such a sign.
“The construction of new off-premises signs, including billboards, is prohibited throughout the City and the City may not issue permits for their construction or relocation. No use variance shall be granted to vary this provision,” the municipal code states.
At Tuesday’s hearing, however, Fleming said a separate section of the code gives the ZBA the ability to grant use variances in all zoning districts throughout the city – a provision he said was not changed when the City Council barred the ZBA from granting variances for billboards.
“They didn’t change the underlying authority that was given to the Zoning Board of Appeals,” he said.
In addition, Fleming said the ability to permit billboards ultimately rests with the state’s Outdoor Advertising Board. That board, he said, would have to hold a public hearing where residents of Quincy, Braintree and other communities would be allowed to share their concerns.
“All we are asking the board to do tonight is to grant a variance to allow this matter to move forward to the state level,” Fleming said.
The sign will not be visible from Quincy’s residential neighborhoods, Fleming said.
“You will not be able to see this sign from a residential neighborhood in Quincy, whether it is on Independence Ave or on Centre Street,” he said.
Douglas Richardson, a vice president with the John Flatley Company, said the height of the billboard, 35 feet, was chosen because it is 18 feet lower than the nearby buildings that comprise the Elevation apartment complex. Richardson presented the ZBA a slideshow he said indicated the billboard would have no visual impacts when viewed from the Common Street neighborhood and other areas in Braintree.
“There are multiple buffers, trees and grade changes as we make our way over towards the Common Street area,” he said. “We have done multiple perspectives and you will not see it.”
Drivers headed northbound on Route 3, Richardson stated, would have a “very limited view” of the sign. He said the billboard would be placed at an angle and its pixels use shades – which he likened to blinders used on horses – to limit the amount of bleed from the side of the signs.
Elected officials from Braintree, however, said the billboard would negatively impact their community.
Braintree Town Councillor Julia Flaherty, whose district includes Common Street and other nearby areas, said the sign would be visible in areas at a higher elevation than Common Street and in the second floors of homes, particularly in winter when there are no leaves on trees.
“It will impact our property values. It will impact our quality of life. No digital billboard belongs that close to a residential neighborhood,” she said. “I really hope that Braintree neighborhoods are not irrelevant to your consideration.”
Flaherty also said the billboard would distract drivers traveling along Route 3, which could lead to car crashes.
“It’s already a fairly stressful place to drive because everyone on the road there has to be focused on getting into the correct lane as they approach the north-south split,” she said. “Billboards create a driving distraction that creates accidents…it is designed to draw your eye away from the road, away from what you are supposed to be focused on.”
Braintree Town Councillor Steven Sciascia, whose district abuts Flaherty’s, noted that a digital billboard next to Route 3 in Weymouth generated complaints from area residents concerned about light pollution after it was installed.
“The issue is not the billboard, it is the fact that it is a digital, 24-hour-a-day lighted billboard that will be seen from a lot of areas in Braintree,” Sciascia said. “Those lights radiate. Everyone has seen them. You have heard all the controversy from towns like Weymouth that have signs like this go in and the impact it has on neighbors.”
In addition, Sciascia noted the applicant’s presentation used images taken during the spring or summer, when trees are full of leaves.
“When it is winter, and when it is 8 o’clock at night and you are trying to get your kids to go to bed and you have to keep the blinds closed because there are lights coming in your window, it will impact residents,” he said.
Quincy City Councillor Anne Mahoney said the intent of city councillors was clear when they barred the ZBA from granting variances for new billboards.
“The city of Quincy made it very clear that we do not want billboards anymore in the city,” she said. “Billboards do not have an economic value for the residents of the city of Quincy. It doesn’t make the area more valuable – it actually depresses the area, and that is a fact if you do the research.”
Mahoney also said she was concerned about the electronic sign leading to distracted driving along Route 3.
“I agree with my neighbors in Braintree. They articulated it very, very well and I am thanking them for being here tonight, because digital advertisements – especially in that section of the highway – would be extremely dangerous and I would hate to see that happen,” Mahoney said.
Members of the zoning board were also skeptical about the proposed digital billboard.
Michael Covais, the board’s vice chairperson, said he was concerned about the proposed location of the sign along Route 3, calling it a “terrible place for it.”
“Though it is not part of my job, I know, I am concerned about our neighbors too. We should be good neighbors,” Covais added. “The citizens of Quincy aren’t going to get anything out of it and the citizens of Braintree may have some problems.”
Board member John Himmel said he drives through that particular section of Route 3 on a daily basis and called it a “nightmare” in the morning and “worse coming home.”
“I can’t imagine anything worse than a digital billboard up on that hill,” he said. “On top of that, what is the advantage for Quincy? Are we going to be known as the ‘City of Signs and Cement?’ And, the negative impact on the town of Braintree, I think, is terrible.”
Martin Aikens, the board’s chairperson, likewise questioned what value the new billboard would provide to Quincy. Aikens said he did not want to vote on the matter at Tuesday’s meeting because the board received more than 40 letters about the proposal. He wanted time to consider that correspondence before voting and made a motion to continue the matter until Aug. 10.
Board member Brian Radell added that he would like to hear from the city solicitor or another city official about whether the ZBA could even grant a variance for the billboard before the vote is taken.