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Billboard company sues to put an electronic billboard on McLellan Highway in East Boston

Proposed new billboard and landscaping

Proposed new billboard and landscaping.

A billboard company that has a deal with the Sons of Divine Providence to replace its current old-fashioned billboards outside the Madonna Queen of the Universe Shrine on Rte. 1A in East Boston with a single, larger electronic signboard yesterday sued the Zoning Board of Appeals, which twice rejected the proposal earlier this year.

The suit comes two months after the board reversed its earlier rejections of an electronic billboard on Polish American Citizens Club land by the side of I-93 in Dorchester and approved that plan. That proposal - the rejection of which also resulted in a lawsuit - calls for the billboard company to pay to remove three billboards in other parts of Dorchester and South Boston; the club says the rental money will help it survive. The board reconsidered after a judge ordered it to do so.

In its suit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, Maverick Media asks that a judge "annul" the board's rejection of the Rte. 1A electronic signboard, saying that that in two separate hearings, the zoning board made a legal mess of its application, but that just as important, the proposal shouldn't even need board approval because it would be replacing two existing, decades-old, billboards with a new one. And, the company alleges, even if the proposal did need city approval, the plot of land "is and can only be the site of a billboard owing to its unique grade."

At a hearing in April, the board actually voted 4-3 in favor of a variance for the flashier signboard, but that meant it was rejected, because state law requires at least five votes for a project.

The company filed for a reconsideration vote. In August, the board voted 4-3 for reconsideration, but decided, on advice of its lawyer, that meant they couldn't reconsider because of the five-vote rule.

That was a mistake, Maverick's lawyers charge, because reconsidering a vote is a "procedural" matter not subject to the state five-vote rule. Also, at the first hearing, the board cut off testimony before many supporters, including state Sen. Lydia Edwards and City Councilor Gabriela Coletta, could speak.

The complaint says that, in any case, the board should have just approved the proposal, in part because the existing billboards have been there for decades and so are grandfathered from the city's current billboard regulations, which basically prohibit them. But that aside, the board should have simply approved the proposal because:

There exists a substantial hardship to Maverick and SDP resulting from these special conditions on the Property that allow for only one beneficial use - a billboard - and the Code presently prohibits the only beneficial uses of the Property.

Indeed, the topography of the Property is such that the excavation of the hill, a necessary predicate for the re-grading necessary for other development of the Property, risks destabilizing the higher-grade land within the boundaries of the Property, and the foundations of homes at the top of the hill on adjacent properties.

PDF icon Complete complaint766.64 KB


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The much larger issue here (to me anyway) is how a nonprofit, which doesn't pay ANY property tax, is allowed to have any billboards or ads of any kind?!? It's like we've forgotten that every nonprofit that exists in your town/city is doing so at your (local taxpayer) expense, and they were only supposed to be allowed to do this in exchange for public benefit.

So, I ask again, what do we--the local taxpayers--get out of subsidizing the cost of this land for the nonprofit and allowing them to dirty it up with billboards?

Voting closed 47

This looks more like a sign than a billboard, hasn't it always has the same massage?

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The difference between a sign and billboard is that a billboard advertises services which are not offered on the premises.

Just ban billboards and everything becomes better.

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The Don Orione Fathers ran a nursing home on the top of the hill. It was Eastie’s only nursing home for many years. They also maintain the Madonna Queen of the Universe Shrine, and I believe, still run a couple churches and services for the Spanish and Portuguese speaking communities. Not exactly thriving recently, but they’ve served the “local taxpayers” at least as well as some Eastie non profits.

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That is the main thing I would be concerned about with an electronic billboard.

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They are a collosal waste of electricity in a time when natural resources should be conserved.

They cause a great deal of light pollution too and provide basically no social benefits.

Ban them all.

Voting closed 43

The annoying church across the street has decided to put up one of these... ON A RESIDENTIAL SIDE STREET.. to advertise their Youtube channel. At night it lights up the whole street. While it's not on past 8-9pm, its still on after sunset.

I'd love to know how this made it by the planning board. Because if I had known, I would have gone and spoken up against it. Sorry my street isn't the Las Vegas strip. Go somewhere else and do this.

fwiw this church imho is a nuisance in general. They've been flippant about city laws the past few years hiding behind 'but we're a church'. No sorry it doesn't work that way

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A classic example of lipstick on a pig. Billboards are a blight on the landscape, and electronic billboards are a particularly offensive form of blight. They derive their economic value at the expense of every parcel within view, and every passerby who is forced to see them.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has long held that variances are generally disfavored, and they are not available to satisfy the desire of any single property owner to maximize their own property value or income. see 334 Mass. 446 Blackman v. Barnstable:
"This court has said repeatedly that the power to vary the application of a zoning ordinance must be 'sparingly exercised and only in rare instances and under exceptional circumstances peculiar in their nature, and with due regard to the main purpose of a zoning ordinance to preserve the property rights of others.' ''

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ZBA opened a nice can of worms by approving the Polish American Club digital billboard a couple of months ago because it's an organization made of "nice people".

Our city has no shortage of struggling organizations. Now ZBA is going to have to do some hard explaining about why every church, mosque or other non-profit can't have a shiny digital billboard.

Good point in the earlier comment about the tax exempt entities. Once they start raking in money by advertising junk food, blingy SUVs and ambulance chasers (along a busy road these things can be super-lucrative), does the land become taxable proportionally to the generated income?

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It is well past time to fully ban billboards in Boston and MA more broadly.

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Except for three specific areas where they're allowed (don't ask me where those are, but I think the Theater District might be one) - although billboards that were around before the city banned them are exmpt.

Thing is, the zoning board exists in part for people to argue why they deserve a hardship exemption (i.e., a variance).

In the July hearing, where the board reversed course and approved the Polish American billboard, the BPDA rep, at least, said he and the agency remained opposed because of the blight billboards are. But when it comes to variances, the BPDA can only make recommendations, the final decision rests with the zoning board.

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Forget zoning and local ordinances. The state legislature needs to enact an actual law banning billboard. Ban the existing ones too, giving them a couple years grace so they don't cry so loud over lost investment. There's no reason MA can't be free of billboards in a couple of years.

People get exposed to plenty of ads everyday without billboards blighting the skyline.

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Why was this billboard approved? Any insight welcomed.

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One was hardship: The club is on the verge of bankruptcy and the lease money will help save it. Also, people in the neighborhood support the club and the idea, the board said at the July 25 hearing, which reversed earlier votes that rejected the billboard.

Watch the hearing:

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What would it take to fully ban them, including removing the existing ones? A state law?

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