Norristown Municipal Council held a public hearing Monday night to hear testimony on a proposed ordinance (Ordinance 12-07) to add a definition of "Changeable Message Outdoor Advertising Sign" to existing zoning regulations. The addition would allow for new electronic billboards to replace existing static billboards located along Markley Street in the Town Commercial and Light Industrial District.
James M. Lillis, an attorney representing Lamar Advertising Company, which owns the existing billboards at 246 West Main Street (on the corner of West Main and Markley streets) and 551 Markley Street (in front of Poley Park) testified that the requested zoning amendment would allow the company to replace the existing static billboards at each site with smaller digital ones that would also be raised approximately 12 feet off the ground. (See the photo for a digitally-enhanced representation of the change.)
The ordinance would restrict the size of the digital billboard to no greater than 378 square feet and prohibit additional billboard from being placed within 750 feet any existing billboard and 200 feet from any residence.
The billboards would cycle through 6 static digital messages (with no animation or flashing lights) every ten seconds, and Lillis noted that the municipality would have an opportunity to take advantage of one of the slots for advertising community events or even emergency situations. Lamar, however, would require 90 days notice for any non-emergency messages the municipality would like to run.
Only two residents raised any questions during the hearing. Dorris Starks questioned whether the zoning amendment would open the door to more billboards in town, but Council President Gary Simpson assured her that the changes to the ordinance gave council much more control over billboard usage in Norristown.
Resident Mary Ellen DiGregorio disagreed, reading a prepared statement to council calling the billboards "urban blight" and a sign of "urban decay." She also alleged the signs would be a distraction to drivers along Markley Street and could result in auto accidents. DeGregorio asked council members to consider information she had provided them with over the course of several months and reevaluate their support of the proposed zoning amendment.
"Billboards, digital or not, offer the residents of Norristown nothing," said DiGregorio. "and are only making he owners of these billboards richer and plaguing and burdoning our community further."
Simpson noted that the billboards were already here and the zoning changes allowed for the municipality to control future billboard placement. Council closed the hearing and voted to approve the ordinance unanimously
"For the last four years we've been trying to get rid of those billboards," Simpson told Norristown Patch. "With [Lamar] suggesting to put the digital billboards up ... [those existing billboards] will all be gone and we're only getting two to replace those four. To me, that beautifies Markley Street."
Download the full text of Ordinance 12-07 in our PDF section.