Westborough voters reject digital billboards bylaw

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Westborough voters reject digital billboards bylaw
Resident Eric Waite speaks against the proposed digital billboard bylaw. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

WESTBOROUGH – Town Meeting voters rejected an article that would have included language to allow for off-premises digital billboards along I-495 and I-90 on Saturday.

Town Planner Jim Robbins said in previous presentations that the proposed regulations may allow for a maximum of four digital billboards along those interstates.

Several residents spoke against the bylaw as it came up for discussion.

“I really think this is a bad idea. We’re going to regret it,” said resident Eric Waite.

Waite made several points, including warnings about distracted driving. He also noted that a “small” number of people would be making money from the billboards.

He argued that high costs to advertise mean larger businesses buy billboard space. “Mom and pop” businesses do not, Waite said.

“I want you to think about driving down one of these highways with your children in the future and saying, ‘I went to Town Meeting, and I made that happen,’” Waite said.

Land owner pitched proposed bylaw

The concept was initially brought forward by a land owner.

The article then went before Town Meeting last October, only to be referred it back to the Planning Board for further study.

Robbins said the board looked at bylaws in other communities.

“Because of that, we were able to rewrite what we think is a very good bylaw that will represent the desires of the town and protect the town at the same time,” Robbins said.

Westborough voters reject digital billboards bylaw
Drone photography showed cars passing along I-495 in Westborough. (Photo/Tami White)

Under the article, the billboards would have been allowed along I-495 and I-90 through a special permit from the Board of Appeals and through a development agreement with the Select Board.

Among the requirements for a special permit, a billboard couldn’t be located within a 500 foot radius of any residential or residentially-zoned property. A billboard wouldn’t be permitted within 1,250 feet of another digital billboard. It would also have a maximum height of 75 feet.

Existing billboards on Route 9 in town currently pay $10,000 annually to the town per sign face. Robbins expected that billboards along the interstates would likely pay more.

Those fees fund the Economic Development Committee’s small business grant program.

The Route 9 billboards also pay $30,000 annually in taxes.

Under the changes, owners would coordinate with officials to have billboards display emergency or public service announcements, Robbins said.

Planning Board chair weighs in

Planning Board Chair Mark Silverberg shared his thoughts during Town Meeting, noting that he is “not a big fan of billboards.”

Westborough voters reject digital billboards bylaw
Town Planner Jim Robbins and Planning Board Chair Mark Silverberg speak during Town Meeting. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

“I don’t want anyone to think that I am because I’m supporting this,” he said.

He had voted to send the article to the Town Meeting, though, saying on Saturday that he did so because of the potential revenue.

He noted conversations during Town Meeting discussing the recent tax burden shift onto residential property owners. This is a way to generate revenue to hopefully offset increases, Silverberg said.

Plus, he said, digital billboards look better than older paper signs. “I think it’s good to regulate these signs,” Silverberg said. “It’s good to get some additional revenues out of it. It’s good to get the community service.”

The article ultimately failed.

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