Westborough weighs digital billboard bylaw

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Westborough weighs digital billboard bylaw
A billboard overlooks Route 9 in Westborough. A new draft bylaw is proposing changes to Westborough’s billboard policy governing nearby I-495 and I-90. (Photo/Ben Domaingue)

WESTBOROUGH – The Westborough Planning Board recently discussed a bylaw to change regulations around off-premises digital billboards in town.

This could allow construction of new billboards along I-495 and I-90.

Current bylaws do not allow billboards, including digital billboards. However, there are “numerous” billboards along Route 9 that pre-exist that restriction, Town Planner Jim Robbins told the Community Advocate. 

Converting any existing billboard in Westborough to an electronic billboard, further, requires a permit from the town’s building commissioner, he said. 

This draft bylaw would change that, adding a subsection to allow new digital billboards along interstate highways that pass through Westborough. 

“This is the one we spent the most time on because it was definitely the most complex and most unfamiliar ground for us,” Robbins said during a Feb. 1 Planning Board discussion of this and other articles set to go before Town Meeting this year. 

Current bylaw draft would allow up to 11 signs

Off-premises billboards are signs that display content unrelated to the premises on which they are located. 

Robbins said the new bylaw proposal is “looking out for the interest of residents.”

“We’re trying to protect the residential character of the town,” he said. “However, we recognize that technology is changing [and] that digital billboards are here to stay. So, we’re going to regulate their size, shape, intensity and overall location.”

Under this draft, installation of a billboard would require a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals and an off-premises billboard development agreement with the Select Board.

Owners of current billboards that want to convert their property into a digital billboard will not be allowed to increase their sign’s size. 

To get a special permit, the requester will have to demonstrate that there aren’t residentially-zoned properties or other properties used for residential purposes within a 500-foot radius of their proposed sign location. 

There would be an exception for hotels or motels. 

The requester will also have to demonstrate that sign locations wouldn’t adversely interfere with adjacent properties. Adverse impacts could include signs casting a shadow or increasing noise in an area.

Billboards would not be able to advertise “sexually oriented, sexually provocative or adult-oriented businesses” and marijuana-related products under this bylaw.

Billboards would, additionally, not be permitted within 1,000 feet of other billboards. 

These restrictions would allow for approximately 11 signs in Westborough, including existing signs, according to Chair Mark Silverberg.

Community Development Director/Building Commissioner/Zoning Enforcement Officer Fred Lonardo noted, however, that the 11 billboard estimate didn’t take into account physical restraints that prevent the placement of signs in areas like wetlands.

The actual number of allowed billboards may be lower as a result.



Planning Board members suggest changes

Silverberg asked, during that Feb. 1 meeting, what would happen if that 1,000-foot limit was increased to 1,500 feet. 

Robbins said the number of allowed billboards would be cut by a third if that change were made. Other Planning Board members voiced their support for such a limitation.

“That maximum build out seems like too many signs to me,” Silverberg said. “I don’t want, in 20 years, to drive down 495 and see eight billboards.”

He also noted that increasing the required distance between the billboards would “somewhat limit the opportunities, but still give some flexibility for competition.” 

Lonardo said Westborough could work with GIS staff on setting a spacing requirement that hits a desired number of billboards.

There will be a virtual public hearing on this and other proposed Town Meeting articles at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 8.

This proposed bylaw will need town meeting approval to take effect.

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