PITTSFIELD -- A City Council subcommittee has endorsed a zoning change that could bar the first digital billboard from going up in Pittsfield.

By a 5-0 vote, the Ordinance and Rules Committee on Monday night unanimously recommended the entire 11-member council next week adopt the zoning amendment that requires two-thirds of the councilors to grant a special permit for new billboards. Currently, a permit isn't required, only site plan approval from the Community Development Board and the council.

City Planner C.J. Hoss noted the existing approval process gives the city limited ability to deny a plan or force significant changes for billboard projects.

The proposal also recommends councilors consider billboards and other off-premise signs be set back 500 feet from intersections and crosswalks. That zoning provision would apparently eliminate the site of Lamar Advertising's digital billboard at 502 East St.

The Community Develop-
ment Board approved the digital sign at its May 7 meeting, at the same time it voted to forward the proposed zoning amendment to the council for final approval.

Hoss told Ordinance and Rules members that the revised regulations are about safety as well as aesthetics, as such large signs can distract pedestrians and motorists.

"This is about the ability to address intersection safety and visual impact," Hoss said. "The zoning will be much more clear ... and consistent with the city master plan."

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. The city would require billboards' maximum dimensions to be 12 by 25 feet.

However, Hoss has said he received a legal opinion that if the council backs the zoning amendment, Lamar would have to apply again, this time for a special permit from the council.

If approved, city officials said the zoning amendment won't affect existing billboards, unless owners propose significant changes to the advertising signs, such as converting them to a digital format.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233