The Zoning Board of Appeal today rejected a proposal to stick a newfangled digital billboard atop a Lincoln Street business next to the Massachusetts Turnpike after hearing from elected officials and neighborhood groups that 60-foot-high structure would become a blight in an up-and-coming area, even if its LEDs would be designed to only beam its rotating ads into the eyes of drivers on the highway.
The 3-3 vote - projects require at least 5 votes for approval - is the second time in two years the board has rejected Valerie Barsom's proposal for a billboard atop the American Cleaning Co. building on Lincoln Street at South Waverly Street - which her attorney, Mike Ross, said is the last spot along the turnpike in Boston where she could have put a billboard had she won approval, due to state regulations that limit spacing to 500 feet between large billboards along the road.
The Allston Civic Association, the Brighton Allston Improvement Association, the Brighton Allston Community Coalition and the Allston/Brighton Community Development Corp. all strongly opposed the billboard on a street that is not just near a residential area, but is fast becoming one itself, with several proposals now before city officials.
"To put a billboard in this location certainly would have a negative impact," civic-association President Tony D'Isidoro said. "It contributes to the decay of the quality of life" of the surrounding area, the CDC's John Woods said.
The improvement association's Anabela Gomes and the community coalition's Joanne D'Alcomo both noted that billboards are a "forbidden use" under Allston/Brighton's zoning.
Approval would "be opening the door for more billboards to be built," Gomes said "it would make a mockery of the granting of variances," because variances require some sort of hardship, and the company atop which the billboard would perch has been running successfully for years, D'Alcomo said.
But Ross pointed to the turnpike as proof a variance should be required, because just being near that road is a hardship, and what better place to put a billboard, what with all the "light pollution, the street noise, the exhaust, the pollution associated with that," he asked. He added the billboard would serve as part of a chain of billboards along that stretch of the highway and would "feed into that rhythym of what's happening on the turnpike."
He said the residential proposals along Lincoln Street have gotten variances for similar reasons as Barsom is seeking.
And he said that Barsom, who served as a state representative in Hampden County in the 1990s, is not some giant corporation he could name, but is instead an individual trying to serve the community even as she builds a woman-led company, somebody who had committed to providing at least 100 hours of community-based PSAs on her board a month, as opposed to the mere 15 required by the state.
It was that commitment that brought Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins to City Hall to testify on behalf of a billboard.
Tompkins said the board would help him highlight programs aimed at fighting opioid addiction and attract people "really ready to roll up their sleeves to work with us" on the problem. He allowed as how Barsom is a friend of his, but one who is "working mightily to get this information out."
Some residents supported the proposal for similar reasons. One said it would help unite the neighborhood's many Chinese-American residents by broadcasting messages to them. Another pointed to the potential for getting more local kids into youth programs, such as Little League, by alerting them to signups and the like.
Others also pointed to Barsom's pledge to build a sound barrier along the turnpike near the billboard and to pay for rodent-control programs in the area.
After hearing opponents speaking against the potential impact of the billboard, Ross told the board Barsom would be willing to lower its height from the proposed 60 feet to 55.
But the offices of Mayor Walsh and city councilors Mark Ciommo and Annissa Essaibi-George spoke against the proposal.
After board Chairwoman Christine Araujo noted that billboards have been banned in Allston/Brighton zoning since 1991, the board took its vote.