This article was created in partnership with Philadelphia Neighborhoods, Temple University's capstone multimedia journalism class.
By Jade C. McKenzie and Connor Showalter
Local residents, community organizers and outdoor advertisers are turning their attention toward an outdoor advertising debate in the Lower South District that may have implications throughout the city.
The billboard, located in the parking lot of Galdo’s Catering and Entertainment on 1933 W. Moyamensing Ave., in Packer Park, is currently visible at 62-feet-high along the Schuylkill Expressway. Recently the sign’s owner has requested a variance with the Zoning Board of Adjustment to erect a digital billboard that would extend to a total of 90 feet.
Keystone Outdoor Advertising Co. contacted the Zoning Board of Adjustments to obtain a variance for a billboard that will potentially be taller and have a digital display. The billboard is located on 1933 W. Moyamensing Ave., in Packer Park.
At the latest ZBA hearing, attorney Steven Pollock represented the billboard’s owner, Dominick Cipollini, who is the owner of Keystone Outdoor Advertising Co.
Representatives from Scenic Philadelphia said the current 14-by-48 billboard is not in agreement with the current zoning code. Scenic Philadelphia lawyer Stephanie Kindt said the city has identified the sign’s area as a location where non-accessory signage should be removed.
However, at the last hearing, Kindt said she was unable to present her testimony against the billboard due to the extent of the case put on by Pollock. The next ZBA hearing is tentatively scheduled for April 25.
“I believe this is the test case, which adds more pressure to our efforts,” said Barbara Capozzi, of Capozzi Real Estate and Insurance Ltd. Capozzi is also affiliated with Scenic Philadelphia.
“Everyone knows that one sign proliferates into many more, everyone knows that,” Capozzi added. “Therefore, clearly we must stop this increase.”
Cipollini, who began securing billboards in Philadelphia in 1977, could not be reached to comment on the Packer Park billboard. Keystone Outdoor Advertising Co. owns more than 90 outdoor sign locations, including digital signs.
So far, 16 Scenic Philadelphia members and Marconi Plaza neighbors have signed a petition of opposition to this variance request. The Marconi Plaza is a neighborhood located nearby the billboard between 20th and Eight streets.
Local resident Reginald Evans, of the 2400 block of Penrose Avenue, said the Packer Park billboard doesn't disrupt the neighborhood.
Scenic Philadelphia released a study, “Beyond Aesthetics: How Billboards Affect Economic Prosperity,” in 2011 that found billboards can impact neighborhoods’ value. The report, conducted by Jonathon Snyder, concluded that the proximity of billboards shows that property values decrease an average of $30,000 per home if the home is located within 500 feet of an outdoor advertising sign.
While there is a potential that the Packer Park billboard may become larger and have a digital display, some local residents said they aren’t concerned about its influence on the neighborhood.
“People like it here, South Philly sells, they don’t seem to have a problem selling property,” said Rosemary Nemetz of the 2700 block of South 17th Street. “I don’t think it would change property values.”
“You’re going to need some type of advertisement,” said Reginald Evans, of the 2400 block of Penrose Avenue, who referred to advertisement for businesses. “[The billboard] is on the corner. It’s not in the middle of the block. So I think it is necessary, I like how it’s set up right now.”
City Discusses Billboard Pollution
“I fear the sign in South Philadelphia because I don’t trust the [billboard owner] to be respectful,” said Norma Van Dyke, of the 200 block of Lombard Street and member of Scenic Philadelphia.
“If you have big signs along the highways, especially if you have digital ones, it’s a safety risk,” Van Dyke added. “It’s also an entrance way into the city. It gives a perspective of what we think about ourselves.”
Scenic America, which is the national organization for Scenic Philadelphia, reported in its latest study released, “The Impact of Driver Inattention on Near-Crash/Crash Risk” that any driving distraction of more than two seconds, including static and digital billboards, is a potential cause of crashes and near crashes.
Norma Van Dyke, of the 200 block of Lombard Street, said advertisers and developers are having a negative impact on neighborhoods in the city.
But local resident Jay Rundio, of the 900 block of West Shunk Street said he doesn’t get distracted by billboards near the highway.
“I don’t think you’re going to impact anyone who lives over there because the billboard is on the other side,” Rundio said. “If you’re not distracted by some of the buildings with the lit up things that go on them in Center City than I don’t see how people would be distracted on [Interstate-76].”
Premier: Outdoor Advertising Documentary
Scenic Philadelphia held the Philadelphia premiere of the documentary, “This Space Available” on March 28 at the Free Library of Philadelphia. The producer, Marc Gobé, was on hand to discuss how visual pollution encroaches on public space worldwide. His daughter, Gwenaëlle Gobé, directed the documentary, which took three years worth of research from major cities on five continents.
“I think we really need to look at the future and our legacy for generations in Philadelphia,” said Mary C. Tracy, executive director of Scenic Philadelphia. “I don’t think anyone who says that film wouldn’t be touched in some way because I think we have become so immune in some ways to all this advertising clutter in our lives.”