East Torresdale residents resistant to new signs

Mile post 32 on Interstate 95 has long been a billboard profiteer’s utopia as no fewer than seven double-sided roadside advertisements pock the landscape just north of the highway’s Academy-Linden interchange.

But on June 13, members of the East Torresdale Civic Association showed a stop sign to a proposal for even more billboard-sized ads along I-95. The residents voted unanimously against the installation of signs on the roof of a construction company’s warehouse.

The case was one of three zoning issues addressed by the civic group during its monthly meeting. Members further voted unanimously to support the legalization of a fitness center in a local warehouse and to back a local couple’s effort to build a new garage for their home.

The billboard plan elicited the most passionate reactions from residents, however.

Zoning consultant Tom Citro presented the details on behalf of JB Richards Construction, which owns the 1,900-square-foot warehouse at 9310 Keystone St. The building is divided into two units, with Richards occupying one side and Union Roofing renting the other space. The rear of the building abuts I-95 near the end of the northbound onramp and is clearly visible from the highway with “Union Roofing” painted in bright red lettering on two exposed sides of the warehouse.

The owner wants to install a v-shaped digital LED sign on the roof with two panels (one facing southbound traffic and the other northbound traffic), each measuring 18 feet high and 40 feet wide. The sign would bring the building’s total height to 38 feet and would be classified as an accessory use — — — meaning that its content would be restricted to promoting the businesses that occupy the warehouse below, Citro said.

Several businesses affiliated with JB Richards are registered at the address, including a rental property management entity, Citro said. So, under the proposal, each face would be permitted to display up to five different messages in rotation.

Meeting-goers didn’t like the idea.

ETCA President Lew Halas said that the city code prohibits accessory, internally illuminated signs within 300 feet of residential properties. Based on Google Maps measurement, the proposed sign would be within 300 feet of the closest home on the 9300 block of Tulip St.

Similarly, Halas said, the city has restrictions on proximity of billboards, although exceptions have obviously been granted in many cases. In this instance, the location of the proposed sign is about 25 feet from the next-closest billboard. Proceeding north, a second billboard sits about 240 feet from the proposed location, while a third billboard is about 410 feet away. Yet another billboard is about 1,040 feet away on the northbound side, while a fifth existing billboard is about 1,145 feet away on the southbound side of the highway.

Two more billboards stand one atop the other just south of the proposed location alongside the northbound onramp to I-95 from Linden Avenue. All of the existing billboards are static images without internal illumination.

Other ETCA members cited their concerns about signs causing roadside distractions for motorists and further eroding the natural landscape.

Even someone with strong pro-billboard interests got involved in the conversation on the anti side. One woman said she represented the owners of a nearby industrial-zoned vacant property at 9339 Keystone St. She claimed that rooftop billboards are illegal throughout the city.

City property records show that a company called Anter Associates owns 9339 Keystone. Anter’s business address is 3201 S. 26th St., the same as Steen Outdoor Advertising, one of the region’s largest billboard marketing firms. Individuals or companies with the same business address own at least three other properties on Keystone Street and one on a nearby block of Convent Lane.

Those properties support five existing billboards, all carrying the Steen name.

In response, Citro insisted that the sign proposed for 9310 Keystone will not be a billboard because it will be used only to promote the businesses registered to the property.

In additional zoning cases:

• The ETCA unanimously approved the legalization of Dan Campos Fitness, a personal training center at 4926 Pearson Ave. Representatives from the neighboring Delaire Auto Body and Jowitt & Rodgers manufacturing spoke in support of the fitness center.

• Members of the civic group also approved unanimously John and Lou Ann Finizio’s application to build a new two-car garage, attached to their home at 9314 Ditman St. The couple plans to remove an existing prefabricated garage that was on the property when they bought it in 1978. ••