The Zoning Board of Appeal today rejected a proposal to replace two old-school billboards that advertise the Madonna Queen of the Universe Shrine on McClellan Highway in East Boston with a state-of-the-art electronic billboard that would beam electronic ads at passing motorists.
The board actually voted 4-3 in favor of the proposal by a billboard company on behalf of the Sons of Divine Providence, but state law requires at least 5 votes on zoning issues, so the proposal failed. Board members Hansy Better Barraza and Giovanny Valencia, along with Chairwoman Sherry Dong, voted against the proposed two-sided billboard, dooming it.
Last month, the board outright rejected a proposed billboard on the property of the Polish-American Citizens Club by the side of the Southeast Expressway in Dorchester.
At a hearing today, both proponents and opponents of the proposed East Boston billboard agreed the site where two signs now advertise the Madonna shrine is an eyesore.
One of the two current billboards:
Proponents, who included former City Councilor Sal LaMattina, who lives on Madonna Hill, said the new billboard would come with attractive new landscaping - and that the rent would help the mission maintain its charitable operations. They added that no residents live right next to the sign. City Councilor Erin Murphy, who supported the proposal, said it would even improve public safety because agencies could use it to flash out emergency messages, including Amber Alerts.
Opponents, however, said the land is now in an "urban wild" covered by conservation zoning aimed at preserving wildlife and that the zoning simply forbids billboards in such zones. Also, the brighter digital messages could distract McClellan Highway commuters, one resident said, adding that there's already a digital billboard a block away and that the Sons of Divine Providence should explore other options to raise funds, similar to the way they sold off their nursing home.