Electronic billboards are a relatively recent innovation that would dramatically change the landscape in a community like Pittsfield. One has been proposed for 502 East Street, and its fate and that of any other similar proposals should be a matter for the City Council to consider. The council should assure that is the case next Tuesday by approving a zoning amendment giving it that authority.
In approving a site plan for an 11-by-23 foot electronic billboard requested by Lamar Advertising last month, the Community Development Board also moved along a zoning amendment requiring that such billboards and off-premise signs receive a special permit by two-thirds vote of the City Council. In acknowledging that a site plan alone does not consider all of the implications of an electronic billboard, the board also recommended that these signs be set back 500 feet from intersections and crosswalks. This would disqualify the site proposed by Lamar Advertising.
The Ordinance and Rules Committee of the City Council on Monday night recommended that the full City Council approve the zoning amendment, and given the unanimous 5-0 vote by the committee, approval by the City Council seems all but assured. Aesthetics are certainly a factor, but as City Planner C.J. Hoss told committee members, safety is a prime consideration, as the billboards can distract drivers as well as pedestrians.
With cellphones and now smartphones tempting drivers to talk as well as text, driving isn’t getting any better in Pittsfield or anywhere else in the nation. Large electronic billboards could pose yet another peril on the highway, and the City Council should take it upon itself to either assure that these kinds of signs are located in a safe place well off the road or, if that can’t be accomplished, that they are not allowed to be constructed.