EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — A planner said a controversial electronic billboard needs a wealth of zoning variances, while a traffic analyst said it poses no threat to motorists, as testimony continued Monday night in the ongoing dispute.
At issue is a 600-square-foot electronic billboard built on the Margate Causeway between Northfield and Margate, on land technically in the township.
Tiffany Cuviello, a licensed professional planner, testified that the billboard should not have been approved for that area. Billboards are permitted in business and industrial zones, she said, but this land is a marine commercial zone. It does not fit into the permitted uses, she said.
Furthermore, she said the township has approved five billboards since 1993, and all were built on the Atlantic City Expressway.
Variances would be required, she said, including a variance for the zone, for two principal uses on the property, and for the billboard to be erected in a property setback. These would have to be granted by the township Zoning Board of Adjustment.
She also questioned the intensity of lighting, noting there was no lighting plan filed. The billboard was nothing like the existing buildings, she said. “I think that we can say there is an impact of this billboard on scenic views and values.”
Later, David Shropshire, a planner and traffic engineer with Shropshire Associates of Atco, Camden County, testified that there was no basis for denying the application over traffic concerns. The road is safe, he said, and meets all the state Department of Transportation standards.
He said there is no data that shows billboards lead to more accidents.
The township Planning Board initially approved the billboard in 2011. But it was quickly the subject of litigation between the developers Jersey Outdoor Media and Richard Levitt, of Northfield, who chairs that city’s Planning Board and who has taken issue with the brightness.
The billboard was turned off a month after it went up, when the state Department of Environmental Protection cited the Moorestown firm in March 2011 for unauthorized wetlands development. Plans now call for moving the pole 24 feet west and cantilevering it over the wetlands.
Testimony in hearings in December and January revolved around the billboard’s brightness. During those hearings, both sides presented experts who testified that the light output supported their argument.
Neighbors a half-mile distant also testified the light was too bright, telling tales of seeing their interior walls turn colors as the billboard changed displays.
On Monday night, Brenda Taube, a Margate commissioner, testified the billboard would fit nicely in Times Square, Las Vegas or Atlantic City. But not on the quiet marshes.
Mary Tracy was a summer resident of Longport and president of Scenic America, a national anti-billboard and visual blight group. She warned the billboard had a major negative impact to the quality of life.
“Once we allow one on the causeway like this one, there’s no stopping them,” said.
Steve Devlin, an Egg Harbor Township resident and Elks Lodge member, said the lodge considered building a similar billboard on Mays Landing-Somers Point Road. He said after a half-hour discussion, the group decided that it did not want to build and anger the neighbors.
The hearing was continued until 5:30 p.m. March 18, when it is expected to conclude.
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