Controversial Digital Billboard Wins Approval; Matter Still Not Settled

Issue still must be decided in court

An application for a controversial digital billboard near Grant Street and Davidson Avenue was approved Dec. 18 by the Planning Board, but that’s not the final word in the matter.

Francis Linnus

Attorney Francis Linnus.

That’s because the issue of the Constitutionality of a township ordinance banning digital billboards is making its way through the state Appellate Court system, with a decision not expected to be rendered until early next year.

The issue has been kicking around for about three years. The applicant, E&J Equities, first sought and won Zoning Board approval for the billboard on June 3, 2010. But the township’s ban on the billboards went into effect in the middle of those hearings, rendering the approval moot and propelling the matter into court.

Earlier this year, Superior Court Judge Peter Buchsbaum invalidated the township’s ban, calling it an infringement on the company’s First Amendment rights.

Along with its appeal, the township applied twice for stays on Buchsbaum’s decision, but was denied both times.

At the Dec. 18 Planning Board hearing, E&J’s attorney, Francis P. Linnus, acknowledged that his client was proceeding at “his own risk,” in that the Appellate Court could rule for the township.

Linnus presented essentially the same witnesses he had in the 2010 zoning board hearings, but this time around they gave abbreviated testimony.

Jonathan Slass, who along with his brother owns E&J Equities and the advertising company that would place the ads, testified that the 45-foot tall sign – which will be erected close to Interstate Route 287 – would abide by state Department of Transportation regulations concerning digital billboards, and also the terms of the invalid township billboard ordinance.

Among those regulations are prohibitions on flashing lights, video, or moving parts.

Mitchell Ardman, an engineer, testified that the sign would be V-shaped, and would be supported by a flat grey or black pole.

Ardman said the nearest home to the billboard is about 335 feet away and that the billboard would not be easily seen by neighbors.

Glen Wiebe, an electr9onics technician with Daktronics, Inc., the billboard’s manufacturer, said the billboards are built so that flashing lights or moving pictures could not be programmed in at all.

He said each advertisement would hold on the screen for a minimum of eight seconds – as per state DOT regulations – and ads would change in 1/100th of a second.

“It doesn’t look like a blinking light, you don’t have any transition whatsoever,” he said.

Traffic engineer Elizabeth Dolan said studies she’s seen indicate that digital billboards pose no greater threat to driver safety than static billboards. She made the same contention at the 2010 zoning board meeting, and was challenged on it by Mark Healey, the township’s principal planner.

Dolan held her position in 2010, and Healey did not voice any challenge to her testimony in the Planning Board meeting.

Board member Ed Potosnak pressed Slass for a commitment to not clear cut one section of the property that Potosnak said he feared would need it to offer a better view of the sign.

Slass said he had no plans to cut any trees in that parcel.

Despite that, Potosnak cast the only “no” vote on the application. Board member Robert LaCorte recused himself, and board chairman Michael Orsini was not present for the  hearing.

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