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.