Resounding ‘no’ from civic group on Morrissey Blvd. billboard bid

Civic groups are pushing back against a proposed billboard on the Expressway Motors property on Morrissey Boulevard, arguing that it will become a neighborhood eyesore.

At a Clam Point Civic Association meeting earlier this month, members voted unanimously to oppose the proposal, which would place an 80-foot tall, 48-foot wide billboard close to the Victory Road/Freeport Street intersection.

Gregory Sullivan, vice president of the association, said other civic groups in the area also oppose the proposal. “This billboard could be seen from several streets back,” he told the Reporter.

State Rep. Marty Walsh and District 3 City Councillor Frank Baker have also weighed in against the proposal.

The city’s Board of Appeal plans a hearing on the bid at 10:30 a.m. on July 10 at City Hall.

Expressway Motors is seeking a variance so that it can erect the double-sided billboard. Robert Boch, co-owner of Expressway Motors, did not return a phone call seeking comment. The proponents have tapped an attorney with McDermott, Quilty, and Miller LLP, a local law firm well-known within City Hall.

An official with Total Outdoor Corp., which would lease the space for the billboard from Expressway Motors, had a representative at the civic association’s June meeting who said the company desires to keep the dialogue going over the proposal.

“We went to the neighborhood to determine how we could work with the neighborhood, and the neighborhood really didn’t have any suggestions for us at that time,” said the official, Frank Podany, adding that the group preferred to take a vote instead of having a conversation.

Total Outdoor has offices in Seattle and locally in Beverly. The company has several billboards on I-93, including near Lawrence and Methuen. Others are located near Malden.

The vinyl billboard proposed for the Expressway Motors site would not be electronic, Podany said, but Sullivan was skeptical. “We believe it’s going to be fully electronic, both sides,” he said. Podany countered that the comnpany would need a permit to convert a static billboard into a digital one.

Sullivan said the civic group’s vote on June 11 was unanimous: 26 to 0 against the proposal.

Rep. Walsh pointed to the strong community opposition to the proposal, and said the neighbors feel that they haven’t been consulted enough. “We need more of a process here,” he said.

Walsh noted that civic groups in the Cedar Grove and Pope’s Hill neighborhoods have supported billboards. “The dialogue has to happen,” he added.

Sullivan said Total Outdoor did approach the association and ask how much money “we wanted to go along with a yes.” Billboard companies sometimes approach civic groups, offering a cut of the revenue in exchange for approval.

The approach doesn’t always work: In 2010, the McCormack Civic Association rejected a pair of proposals that would have brought in $1,500 a month for them and other civic associations in the area.

“There is no number,” Sullivan said. “This is not a bargaining issue. The answer is no.”

Podany gave his own take on how Total Outdoor approached the civic group, saying they came to the association to hear from the community “how we can be an engaged business.”

Peter McNamara, an activist from Savin Hill, said he counted 25 billboards visible from I-93 between Neponset Circle and where the Boston Globe is located, at 135 Morrissey Blvd. “They’re destroying our neighborhoods, they’re destroying our highways,” he said.

Other billboard proposals are also on the table: 65 Boston St. could see a billboard, according to McNamara. Separately, the city’s Department of Neighborhood Services sought feedback earlier this month on a proposal to place two 12-by-24 foot billboards on the rooftop of 10 Fairway St.

“We know we reside in an area that is highly dense,” Sullivan said. “We want to continue investments that have a balance, and a billboard is not a balance.”