Cedar Grove civic gives nod to village billboards

For years, two Clear Channel-owned billboards have occupied prime real estate atop a prominent Adams Corner building, stirring the ire of some neighbors who deem it an eyesore. But in September, after a persistent Clear Channel and a generous landlord offered to donate $150,000 to the St. Brendan School if the signs are allowed to stay influential local civic association agreed that the boards should stay put. If the legal details work out, they will.

Arthur Murray, the owner of the three-story building at the corner of Adams St. and Gallivan Boulevard, had originally brokered a deal with the Cedar Grove Civic Association and elected officials to allow a new Sprint cell phone tower on the spot as long as he took down the billboards. But Clear Channel had a strong interest in preserving their ad space. They negotiated with Murray, CGCA president John O'Toole and other members and produced a proposal that was presented to CGCA members at a Sept. 18 meeting.

In exchange for the $150,000 dedicated to St. Brendan in memory of the late pastor, Father Jim Lane, the neighborhood voted 41 to 10 to let the billboards stay up. Murray agreed to forego rent from Clear Channel to help seal the deal, although the legal details have yet to be worked out. A number of teachers and St. Brendan parents were also in the room at the time, including the principal.

"Cedar Grove [civic] has been around for 75 years," said O'Toole. "What we saw was an opportunity to give back to the school and the community that has supported us all those years."

The neighborhood also harbors fears about the St. Brendan's future in the Archdiocese of Boston's 2010 School Initiative. In five of the eight plans presented for the first time to parents last week, St. Brendan would be closed in a reconfiguration of Dorchester's under-enrolled Catholic schools. Although the parish may ultimately opt-out of the 2010 process [see related story page one], that decision-making process is still underway.

"You gotta do what you can to get what you can," said O'Toole of the deal. "Whether you have a kid in Catholic school or not, you'll find that these are the anchors of the neighborhood. These were options for Catholics and non-Catholics to give their kids a quality education."

At least one person in the neighborhood is upset that the billboards won't be coming down and concerned with how the decision was made, even though she was notified in advance about the Sept. 18 vote by e-mail and mail.

"I simply did not open the newsletter," said Dorothy Baxter of Hilltop St., a member of CGCA. "However, I don't think it's ethical in a 30-day time span to reverse something the community agreed upon years back. I have no problem with St. Brendan getting funding, but why does it have to be paired with the billboards staying up?"

O'Toole said the discussions have been going on for months, however.

"It wasn't cloak and dagger," he said. "It wasn't dark of night. This was all above boards."

Next steps in the process are still fuzzy. The city, the CGCA and Clear Channel are still working out the "legalese." At some point, a Zoning Board of Appeals hearing will be held to allow the cell phone tower, but that apparently hasn't been scheduled yet. If the money does come through it will not go straight to the Archdiocese of Boston, a committee composed of members of the community and the St. Brendan Parent's Guild will determine how it is spent.