Pittsfield officials balk at plan for electronic billboard


PITTSFIELD -- Plans for the county's first electronic billboard short-circuited before the Community Development Board on Tuesday, and the owners were essentially told to go back to the drawing board.

Lamar Advertising is proposing a new billboard with rotating, electronically controlled images at 502 East St., just east of the Elm Street intersection. The sign would be 11 feet by 23 feet, or the same size as other Lamar billboards in the county and similar to existing electronic signs the company operates in the Albany, N.Y., area.

Representing the company, Lamar real estate manager David L. Leavitt handed board members information on electronic billboards and stressed that the images would not include flashing lights or scrolling messages. The images would replace one another every six seconds, he said, adding that the signs have been shown not to create a distraction for drivers.

Matthew J. Duddy, vice president and general manager of Lamar Advertising in the region, told The Eagle on Monday that if local permits are obtained, the firm would then seek permits from the state Office of Outdoor Advertising, which he said has approved use of electronic signs in Massachusetts.

Duddy added: "This will not be Times Square and it will not be Las Vegas. It is not a traffic risk."

However, board members Louis Costi and Floriana Fitzgerald said they had received calls from citizens concerned about the proposed sign, including from a nearby funeral home.

And Ward 3 City Councilor Nicholas Caccamo announced his opposition. "I do not support the construction or placement of this billboard, not at that location," Caccamo said.

"I see the [Pittsfield High School] kids running there. They don't stop for traffic; they just go," Fitzgerald said. "I'm really concerned about it."

The site, near a small retail center on the south side of East Street, is roughly 300 yards from the high school campus.

Costi said, "I think it's a very dangerous place for this to be," especially considering the many students walking in the area. He said he also received calls from residents and business owners who oppose the location.

Board members questioned the information about the sign provided by Leavitt. Chairwoman Sheila Irvin termed the material "a very sketchy site plan," compared to the level of detail usually provided by applicants. She and City Planner C.J. Hoss told Leavitt that site plans normally would have the exact location of the sign, its relationship to the street and structures and other details.

Costi also asked for more detail on traffic safety, but Leavitt said he thought that would be impossible to obtain at that specific site. He said the signs have been shown to pose no safety hazard in other areas.

A resident who spoke said he always finds it difficult to avoid staring at electronic billboards he passes on Interstate 90 in New York and is concerned drivers would lose focus at the East Street site, resulting in accidents.

Leavitt said the firm will revise its site plan and asked to be scheduled again for the board's April 15 meeting.

To reach Jim Therrien:


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