‘“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign. Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind” ... lyrics from “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band (1970).
The pros and cons of permitting signs – in the form of huge billboards – in Hermitage commercial areas is being weighed by the Hermitage Zoning Hearing Board.
The current zoning ordinance in the city does not permit billboards in commercial areas. In fact there are various restrictions on the size and type of signs.
However, the legality of the ordinance is being questioned by the owners of Mercer Outdoor Advertising who have appealed the rejection of applications for seven advertising billboards.
According to the company, they have tentative deals to place six digital billboards on Hermitage Road and one on East State Street and Dutch Lane.
However, the city ordinance only permits billboards in industrial zones. And such billboards can be seen on roads such as Mercer Avenue (Route 418). While they may not be aesthetically pleasing to some people, at least those billboards don’t block out other business signs or buildings.
But if billboards are permitted in commercial areas, there could soon be a sign war and there will be a lot of displeased business owners if the billboards detract from views of their operations.
There is also the question of what will be permitted on these billboards. The owners of Mercer Outdoor Advertising say the company values do not allow for posting any “vice” advertising such as cigarette ads or scantily dressed models.
While that may be true right now, who knows how long they will own the signs. Could somebody else buy them in the future and do whatever they want? And what if original advertisers pull out and they can’t fill the signs? As the limbo song goes: “How low can you go?”
There are some positives to allowing those signs, which would be digital and much more appealing than the old wooden billboards. The signs could generate tax money for the city. And it will also provide money for some local landowners, where the signs could be placed for an easement fee. So it is understandable that some of these property owners would want to accommodate the sign company.
There is no doubt that balancing the interests of businesses and the city is a difficult one. For example, the sign ordinance has been amended more than 50 times since it was adopted in 1991, according to city officials.
But adapting it again to allow digital billboards could open the door to signage battles that would really hurt the image of the community. As Brett Stedman, attorney for the city, pointed out, if the billboard restrictions are struck down, people could put signs anywhere they want.
We are inclined to agree with the city in this fight. Permitting billboards, whether digital or not, is not a good idea in commercial areas and could actually hurt overall business in the long run.
Like the Five Man Electrical Band, a lot of people don’t want signs blockin’ out the scenery and breakin’ their minds!