PITTSFIELD -- Site plan approval was granted Tuesday to Lamar Advertising for an electronic billboard on East Street, but a proposed zoning amendment that could overturn that decision took a step forward at the same meeting.

The Community Development Board voted to send its recommended zoning change to the City Council prior to meeting with Lamar representatives. The amendment was drafted by the board last month after Lamar had applied for an 11-by-23 foot electronic sign at a site just east of the intersection of East and Elm streets.

A key aspect of the zoning change is that it recommends that billboards and off-premise signs also require a special permit, requiring a two-thirds vote of the City Council.

The revision approved by the board Tuesday also recommends to councilors that they consider a 500-foot setback for such signs from intersections and crosswalks. That apparently would eliminate the site of the proposed Lamar billboard at 502 East St.

The signs currently require only a site plan review by the Community Development Board, which has limited ability under the process to deny a plan or force significant changes. The board approved that plan Tuesday at the meeting.

However, City Planner C.J. Hoss told board members that he had received a legal opinion that if the zoning amendment is approved by the council, Lamar would have to apply again, this time for a special permit from the council.

If the council rejects the zoning amendment, the billboard apparently would be considered approved.

Mathew J. Duddy, vice president and general manager of the Latham, N.Y., based Lamar, gave a video presentation of similar signs in New York state and provided a rendering of how the sign would look at the East Street parcel.

Duddy said the two-sided, V-shaped billboard would be smaller than those on Interstates 90 or 787 in the Albany, N.Y., area. There would be no flashing lights, he said, and alternating images would replace one another completely after an interval of 10 or more seconds.

At an initial presentation by the company in March, board members had expressed concerns about safety if drivers were distracted by the changing images.

As a business, Duddy said his company has replaced or refurbished numerous billboards in the county after purchasing them in 2005, reducing the size of signs, adding LED lighting and using materials more resistant to tearing than paper for the images.

He said a public service feature is that crime, weather or other alerts can be posted as needed by public safety officials, and the images can be controlled from a computer.

He said there is a demand for electronic billboards from the firm's clients.

Ward 3 City Councilor Nicholas Caccamo spoke against the project, saying he believes the idea of a billboard seems contrary to the image the city is promoting in the downtown area, and asserted that such signs run counter to trends in technology pertaining to advertising.

To reach Jim Therrien:
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