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Chester County Press

Lower Oxford supervisors ignore residents’ opposition, approve billboard ordinance changes

01/20/2015 02:25PM ● By Steven Hoffman

The Lower Oxford Township Board of Supervisors approved amendments to the township’s billboard ordinance on Jan. 14, despite sustained and vocal opposition from residents of the Oxford area.

The supervisors approved the changes, which will clear the way for large electronic billboards of up to 960 square feet on commercially zoned property along Route 1, by a margin of 2-1. Supervisors Ken Hershey and Joel Brown voted for the ordinance, while Ron Kepler opposed it.

The unpopular billboard ordinance was the only item of business on the Jan. 14 agenda, and a standing-room-only crowd made their feelings about the issue known throughout.

Approximately 663 people signed a petition on urging the supervisors to abandon the proposed changes.

At the beginning of the meeting, township solicitor Winifred Sebastian also detailed the correspondence that the supervisors had received about the billboard ordinance. She said that 110 Lower Oxford residents had sent in postcards opposing the ordinance, compared to just two postcards in support of it. Additionally, 64 people sent emails in opposition to the amendments.

More criticism of the ordinance changes came during the public comment period, which was very similar to what occurred at the Dec. 10 hearing unveiling the ordinance changes.

Residents said that large electronic billboards would disturb the rural character of the township, create an unnecessary nuisance for people who live nearby, and possibly distract Route 1 motorists.

“We do not need a billboard in Lower Oxford Township,” said resident JoJo Campbell, who said that she was also concerned about the trees that would be cut down as a result of the billboard.

“I don’t know why we have to approve a sign that’s so large,” said township resident Paul Emery, explaining that the 960-square-foot limit would be much larger than the billboards that are permitted on larger roads, like Route 202.

Karen Pattinson, a township resident for more than two decades, said that the large signs would spoil the beauty of the area. “I believe the sign is bigger than my house,” she said.

“It’s a rural area. We don’t need to have such a giant sign,” said Susan Myers. “It’s also a safety hazard.”

David Jenkins said, “I don’t want to sit in my backyard and see this monstrosity. You wouldn’t want to see it from your backyard, so I don’t think it’s fair that you want me to see it from mine.”

Township resident Chuck Boohar said that he was strongly opposed to the ordinance amendments because they would allow for billboards that are larger and brighter than those permitted in Philadelphia. He also said that as many as three or four billboards would be permitted along Route 1 with the new regulations, which would only multiply the issues.

Resident Steven Barbone talked about the danger of putting up an electronic billboard that would be distracting to motorists. He predicted that they would all be sitting in a township meeting a year from now discussing the safety hazards that were created by the decision.

“Who in the community is pushing for this ordinance?” questioned Nottingham resident David Ross. He said that if the supervisors couldn’t reject the ordinance, they should send it back to the planning commission for further work to address the concerns of residents.

Charles Fleischmann, a supervisor in neighboring Upper Oxford Township, said that he shared some of his concerns with the Lower Oxford supervisors regarding some technical aspects of the ordinance that are inconsistent with the area’s regional comprehensive plan.

Jim Donahue told the supervisors that their vote on the issue would be a legacy vote, and he encouraged them to reject the ordinance.

The antipathy toward the ordinance was unanimous—almost. Township resident Jay Stout said that he wanted the changes to be approved.

“I’m one hundred percent in favor of it,” Stout said.

After about an hour of public comment, it was time for the supervisors to comment on the ordinance changes. It quickly became apparent that, despite the opposition of residents, Brown and Hershey still supported the ordinance changes.

Brown took the lead, talking about how the township has had unbalanced development, with a lot more residential development than commercial development during the last few decades.

“We felt this would make it look more commercial,” he said.

That comment drew laughs from the dismayed audience.

“I listened politely, I ask you to do the same,” Brown said.

The supervisor went on to explain the Oxford Area School District has the third-highest tax rate in the county because of a lack of commercial development in the area.

“We have not been successful in getting commercial development…I have made it {my goal} to increase commercial development,” Brown said.

Brown also talked about how the billboard would be installed on a structure, made to look like a barn, that could be taxed. He admitted that it would not generate significant tax revenues for the township, but it would generate some.

Hershey said that as a resident of the area for more than 60 years, he hasn’t always liked some of the changes that came along. He farmed near Route 1 before the road was built, and he didn’t think it was necessary at the time. He also said that some residents opposed the Oxford Commons development for some of the same reasons that the billboard was being opposed.

Hershey also noted that even if the ordinance is passed, any developer wanting to install a billboard would still have to go through the conditional-use process.

“There’s going to be a conditional-use hearing, and then we can regulate some of this other stuff—the sizes,” Hershey said. “We’re looking at ways we can help commercial development.”

When it was Kepler’s turn to speak, his comments were brief but to the point.

“I think it’s too big. And I think we have a lot of opposition,” Kepler said. “I think we ought to trash this ordinance.”

The crowd cheered wildly, rising to its feet to give Kepler a standing ovation, a rare scene at a township meeting.

By this time, everyone knew how the final vote would go. Brown and Hershey voted to approve the ordinance changes. Kepler opposed it. It was approved.

After the vote, the residents' reactions hovered somewhere between disappointment and anger.

Mary Boohar said that she was saddened by the board’s decision, especially since residents were nearly unanimous in their opposition.

Fleischmann said that he remained concerned that the ordinance contained technical issues that were inconsistent with the area’s regional comprehensive plan. He pointed out that ordinances aren’t just written for the elected officials in office today, but for the supervisors who will be relying on these regulations in the future. Those inconsistencies could cause issues in the future.

Others at the meeting complained about the curious police presence. Why were state troopers in attendance at a public meeting that had just one item on the agenda that did not pertain to a law enforcement issue? At least one woman said that she felt the police were brought in for the purpose of intimidating residents.

As others left the township building, some openly questioned why the supervisors were approving regulations that were so unpopular with residents.

“I feel like they did not listen to their constituents,” said Boohar. He added that residents will remember this vote when the supervisors seek reelection.

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