The Zoning Board of Appeal today rejected a billboard company's plan to stick a 24-hour electronic billboard on top of the Dunkin' Donuts on Causeway Street at Lancaster Street, across from the Tip O'Neill Building.
In a 5-2 vote, the board sided with City Councilors Kenzie Bok and Ed Flynn that Media Vision, Inc.'s need to make money was not enough of a hardship to overrule a zoning prohibition against billboard in a historic district, one that could distract drivers at an intersection that is already dangerous for pedestrians.
The city currently has three areas - the Seaport, Landsdowne Street and the Theater District - where such signs are allowed, with zoning-board approval. Everywhere else, the signs are forbidden, which would require the board to grant a variance, which requires proving the zoning is causing an undue hardship on the applicant.
"We really feel it's incredibly important for the board not to sort of set a precedent of granting a hardship for electronic billboards," because once one is given, it could open the rest of the city up to them, Bok said.
Bok added that while that particular section of Causeway is now limited to commercial uses, the broader area is rapidly becoming residential, and the last thing it needs is "a tax on people's attention whenever they step out into the public realm."
The West End Civic Association and the Downtown North Association, which represents area businesses, also opposed the proposal.
Jay Walsh, representing the Downtown North Association, said the burgeoning Garden/North Station project down the street might be a better place for electronic billboards.
Some area non-profit groups, however, backed the proposal, because of Media Vision's promise to give them time and space on the board for PSAs.
Jeff Hampton, a planner with the BPDA, also urged the board to reject the proposal. He said the BPDA is currently working on a zoning change to further control electronic billboards, including limiting their approvals to just eight years at a time, requiring BPDA licensing and setting limits on their hours of operation, brightness and how quickly the ads on them can change.