Westborough Town Meeting discussing billboard bylaw

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Westborough Town Meeting discussing billboard bylaw
A billboard towers over Route 9, near the Westborough/Northborough town line. The town is currently considering s new billboard bylaw. (Photo/Dakota Antelman)

WESTBOROUGH – A maximum of four off-premises digital billboards may be placed along I-495 and I-90 if a new billboard bylaw passes at Town Meeting today.

That’s according to a presentation to the Select Board on Feb. 22, made before the Select Board voted to close this meeting’s warrant.

The signs would be allowed along I-495 and the Mass Pike by a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and a development agreement with the Select Board. The billboards could be used to advertise Westborough events and public service announcements  under the bylaw.

Bylaw limits billboard location

An article on off-premises digital billboards went before Town Meeting last October.

At that time, it was referred back to the Planning Board for further study.

Since, the Planning Board has been working on the details of this article.

The maximum number of billboards that would be possible is four, according to Town Planner Jim Robbins’ presentation.

The billboards would be prohibited within a 500- foot radius of a residentially zoned property or property used for residential purposes, excluding hotels and motels. A billboard also would not be permitted within 1,250 feet of another permitted billboard.

Robbins said the state, further, doesn’t allow billboards adjacent to off ramps.

The proposed bylaw says the maximum height of billboards shall not exceed 75 feet as measured from the elevation of the adjacent road to the top of the sign.

Select Board discusses existing billboards

Select Board member Shelby Marshall voiced concerns about a portion of the new bylaw that regulates the conversion of existing off-premises non-digital or non-electronic billboards into digital billboards, such as those on Route 9.

She said she was generally supportive of the bylaw.

“But my concern is the allowance of other billboards t change outside of that 495/90 area and what could be erected that allows it to be a massive structure much closer to the downtown area,” Marshall continued.

She acknowledged regulations, including limitations on the proximity of billboards to residential areas. However, she said she would like to see additional restrictions limiting where the signs could be placed.

Select Board member Patrick Welch weighed in as well.

“I just don’t want to be watching TV out my bedroom window, because I’m pretty close to one of the existing billboards on Rt. 9 right now,” he said.

Select Board member Ian Johnson said that these questions come down to special permit criteria with the ZBA.

“I think there’s a lot of protections in there given to the Zoning Board of Appeals as opposed to trying to regulate heights and everything within a zoning piece itself,” Johnson said.

Robbins said that an existing billboard owner would need a variance if they wanted to increase their sign’s height up to 75 feet, because that would not be a pre-existing nonconforming use. He added that ZBA chair Justin Lundberg helped write the bylaw.

“That issue was never discussed,” Robbins said of this matter of signs outside of the I-495/I-90 area. “He was not concerned about it.”

The Select Board revisited this on March 8. At that time, Town Manager Kristi Williams said prior drafts didn’t allow to increase the height of billboards on Route 9. That fell off at some point, she said.

Town Meeting takes place today.

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