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Chester County Press

Oxford billboard issue sidestepped by East Marlborough ordinance

01/29/2015 12:25PM ● By J. Chambless

This digital billboard on Route 202, near the Delaware border, is the kind of structure that's being hotly debated in Lower Oxford Township.

The public outrage after the Lower Oxford Township Board of Supervisors cleared the way for electronic billboards of up to 960 square feet along Route 1 is the kind of issue that East Marlborough Township quietly avoided back in August.

The township's billboard ordinance was amended to block construction of the kind of two-sided digital billboards that are seen on Route 202 near West Chester, and near the Delaware state line. The signs, built into brick or stone structures, display changing advertisements 24 hours a day. In a township that dutifully pursues even companies that put up temporary yard signs, that sort of monumental structure was not going to be welcome.

"The issue was brought up by our solicitor, Frone Crawford," said East Marlborough Township manager Jane Laslo during a phone call on Jan. 23. "He advised us that the Pennsylvania law had changed, and a court decision had made it possible for those types of signs to be used. He recognized that loophole."

Without an ordinance specifically prohibiting the large outdoor digital signs, townships leave themselves open to companies who want to build them along heavily trafficked roads. In East Marlborough, Ordinance 1707, which was discussed in May and updated and approved in August 2014, is extremely detailed regarding outdoor advertising. Among its provisions: Billboard signs must be on lots of at least 10,000 square feet; the height may not be more than 20 feet; the total display area of each face can't exceed 160 square feet; and no electronic signs are permitted. That means no flashing signs, signs with mechanically changing messages, or electronic digital signs.

"What our ordinance does is say that one can have a piece of ground in an expensive commercial district, but that piece of ground has to be solely for that billboard, and its use cannot be shared," Laslo said.

The sign near the Delaware border on Route 202 is built atop a stone wall and is surrounded by small fountains. It is brilliantly lighted, day and night. "I drive down that way every Tuesday," Laslo said, "and it's a huge distraction. The traffic is going maybe 55 miles an hour, cars are switching lanes, yet that thing is saying, 'Watch me, watch me.' And it scrolls. I find myself looking away because I'm waiting for it to change. It's such a hazard. I'm surprised there aren't more accidents there because of it."

There wasn't any public outcry before East Marlborough revised its sign ordinance, Laslo said, and there has been no comment from the public since. But she feels that the township sidestepped a huge issue.

"It's a pretty good ordinance, and hopefully it will protect us," she said. "I don't think people were aware of the issue beforehand. They didn't realize the impact of it."

While the Route 1 commercial corridor through East Marlborough Township will not have any huge digital billboards, the township also keeps an equally close watch on the nuisance signs that pop up in vacant lots or street corners. "It's a bear to enforce," Laslo said. "We are constantly after those companies. We try," she added with a sigh. "Otherwise it looks like Coney Island."

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, e-mail [email protected].