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Controversial MBTA billboard plan is withdrawn

Posted by Michele Morgan Bolton  April 26, 2010 09:56 PM

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Media giant Clear Channel has withdrawn its application to lease an 85-foot-tall, two-sided billboard at 699 Blue Hill Drive just weeks after a storm of opposition by Dedham and Westwood officials and residents.

While it isn't known whether the decision is temporary or long-term, Dedham Town Administrator Bill Keegan said one thing that's clear is that his and others' testimony against the proposal definitely paid off.

"I received notice that the applications have been withdrawn,'' Keegan said in a note to selectmen. "Now this may mean that it may come back at a later time, but I do consider this a short-term victory."

State officials took the matter under advisement earlier this month after scores of opposing views were voiced during a public hearing before the state Department of Transportation's Outdoor Advertising Division and its director, Edward Farley.

Agency spokesman Adam Hurtubise confirmed on Monday that the proposals have been withdrawn, but had no further information.

The 48-foot-long and 14-foot-high billboard is part of a 10-sign, 10-year contract between the MBTA and Clear Channel meant to raise nearly $10 million for the cash-poor state agency. It would replace three banners that once hung from the Route 128 commuter station parking garage advertising the Westwood Station lifestyle center planned for adjacent University Avenue.

But arguments against the billboard said the hulking sign would mar the panoramic views of the Blue Hill Reservation, and also violate a 40-year-old federal statute that says signs can't be located with 300 feet of public parks and scenic areas and/or within 500 feet of an interchange or intersection.

Town officials argued that the proposed billboard would be situated just 310 feet from the Neponset River Reservation and well within the distance guidelines for Route 128, University Avenue, and Interstate 95.

Accordingly, T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said, the decision to withdraw the application came after town officials submitted those facts to support their claim that the location for the proposed billboard did not satisfy that federal-state memorandum of agreement.

"The MBTA feels it is important that the process for erecting a new billboard be suspended while this information and documentation be thoroughly analyzed,'' he said.

It's the second time in as many years that a billboard plan has been beaten back. Last year, state Representative Paul McMurtry, a Dedham Democrat, and fellow town officials succeeded in persuading the MBTA to eliminate a separate plan to lease dozens of billboards along major roadways.

That included sites in Dedham and Westwood, even though the state courts have ruled the T's advertising practices can trump local zoning laws and public opinion.

Dedham Selectman Paul Reynolds, one of the billboard plan's most vocal opponents, said Monday he was "very happy" after word began to spread that the proposal is dead -- at least for now. "We're very grateful that the process worked."

Like Keegan, Reynolds said he believes Dedham's concerns had an effect on the final decision.

"And on the community side, it was great to see how much vibrant support surfaced to protect the Commonwealth's landscape from unnecessary blight,'' he said.

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at mmbolton1@verizon.net.

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