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Art Commission Approves Advertising Kiosks Despite Public Opposition

By Brendan McDevitt, Scenic Philadelphia Intern

At a public hearing on November 1st the Philadelphia Art Commission voted 7-to-1 to grant approval for a private company to install 100 advertising kiosks on city sidewalks, despite objections from several neighborhood organizations and many residents. The kiosks still need approval from PennDOT, the agency responsible for ensuring Philadelphia’s compliance with federal outdoor advertising regulations which would apply to most of the streets where the kiosks are proposed.  Scenic Philadelphia will be coordinating with PennDOT and federal regulators to ensure that any proposed kiosks do not violate federal laws.

During the hearing the chairman of the Philadelphia Art Commission, Alan Greenberger, asked representatives from Intersection, an outdoor advertising firm, and the city’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems (OTIS) a very direct question: “What would you like us to do?” Unfortunately, the Art Commission gave the advertising firm and OTIS exactly what they came for. A motion for approval of the ‘Link’ advertising kiosks in Philadelphia was passed swiftly by a majority of the commission.

Intersection and OTIS proposed several possible sites for the kiosks on the sidewalks of wide streets, such as Market and Arch, as well as the narrow streets of Old City. Their presentation highlighted the free Wi-Fi, outreach to local businesses, public service announcements about civic events, and cell phone charging ports that the kiosks would bring to people, but failed to address many of the concerns members of the public and neighborhood groups expressed about the kiosks.  There was additional concern expressed by civic leaders about the lack of public notice and input on a proposal that would have a profound impact on the public space.

A representative from the Crosstown Coalition of thirty civic associations testified to the Art Commission that no one from OTIS or Intersection had reached out to their neighborhoods about these proposed kiosks.  These civic associations reached a unanimous decision that without any information they would not support the kiosks. A resident of Old City, Rob Kettell, frankly told the art commission that the kiosks would not fit in Old City,  explaining that the streets of Old City are too narrow and crowded to accommodate these 9-foot tall and 3-foot wide kiosks. He also felt that an environment with these continuously changing ads would be hazardous to pedestrians and drivers on Old City’s streets. Mr. Kettell said that the kiosks’ unsightly appearance would not look natural with Old City’s rustic and authentic appearance.

Scenic Philadelphia’s executive director, Mary Tracy, testified about the potential degradation these kiosks could have on Philadelphia’s historic appearance and character. Ms. Tracy said that the city needs to be aware of the numerous public nuisance issues the kiosks have led to in New York and asked the commission to consider the long-term impact that these kiosks may have on Philadelphia. She ended her testimony with an appeal to consider the impact that taking away public space would have on the people of Philadelphia.

The president of The Society Hill Civic Association, Roseanne Loesch, also testified to the art commission that her group was very concerned about the lack of public awareness and participation in the kiosk program approval process. She asked for public hearings regarding the kiosks, and posed a final question to the commission: why should private, for profit businesses be given public space for ads?

Only one member of the commission, painter Joe Laragione, found it disconcerting that of nearly 200 letters the commission received regarding the kiosk proposal, all but 3 were opposed to the proposal.  He remembered what other members of the commission seem to have forgotten: the purpose of art commissions is to steward public space on behalf of the public and to protect and promote the good visual character of the city’s streetscapes. Mr. Laragione’s stated that if such a large portion of people in Philadelphia did not want these kiosks, then they should not be approved. At this point art commission chair, Alan Greenberger, again asked Intersection what they wanted from the Philadelphia Art Commission. Intersection clearly stated this time what they came for: approval for the kiosks.  Despite Joe Langione’s sincere words and great public testimony, a motion for the approval of the kiosks was passed by the majority of the art commission.

Brendan McDevitt is a Temple University student with a keen interest in urban development and public relations. This was his first time attending an art commission hearing. 

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Billboard Update in Northern California: Third Hurdle Overcome, but Victory Not Yet Final

The northern California city of Albany – near Berkeley and San Francisco – was able to overturn a billboard ordinance the City Council had approved in March that would have allowed a digital billboard on a new maintenance building currently under construction. Scenic East Bay was able to advise them to work together and mount a successful grassroots campaign against the ordinance with help of Sierra Club and especially former City Council member Robert Cheasty.

image003Five members of the public spoke at the City Council meeting on July 21st, including one representative of the Sierra Club.  They argued how digital billboards would adversely affect enjoyment of the waterfront, traffic safety, property values, and wildlife.  Ultimately, four City Council members voted in favor of overturning ordinance.  One council member voted against overturning it.


To finalize the ordinance change, there will be a confirmatory vote, most likely at the September 2nd City Council meeting. Monitor the Facebook page updates on the campaign.


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Let There Be LESS Light: Digital Signage in Chicago

Photo from Chris Hall's article "ISA works with Chicago to overturn digital sign ban, Part II" on Digital Signage Today
Photo from Chris Hall’s article “ISA works with Chicago to overturn digital sign ban, Part II” on Digital Signage Today

Below is an interesting interview by a trade publication of David Hickey of the International Sign Association.  The interview gives some insight into how the ISA uses boilerplate language on regulations from city to city when advocating for digital on-premise signs.  They’re working hard to influence planners in particular…


ISA works with Chicago to overturn digital sign ban, Part I

ISA works with Chicago to overturn digital sign ban, Part II

The interview was spawned by a recent effort by ISA to overturn a moratorium on on-premise digital signs in Chicago, which is covered nicely in this report.

Anyone complaining about light pollution in Chicago, however, will find no friend in the Mayor’s office.

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The Settlement Cases

August 9, 2006: The City of Philadelphia Law Department settles a lawsuit with representatives of the billboard industry..

March 6, 2007: Scenic Philadelphia, along with five members of Philadelphia City Council, four other community organizations, and one individual sues the City for violations of due process rights, and rights to access the courts and to petition the government.

June 21, 2007: The suit is dismissed with prejudice from Federal District Court.

October 9, 2007: Plaintiffs from the March 6th case appeal to the Federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

August 12, 2008: The Third Circuit Court affirms the order of the Federal District court in part, and modifies it in part, holding that, while the Plaintiffs lacked standing in Federal court, the merit of their claims could still be litigated in the state courts

2010: Plaintiffs bring a similar claim in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County.

2010: Defendants have the case removed to Federal Dristrict court because the claim raises questions of Federal Law.

2010: Plaintiffs move to remand the case to the state court system.

October 21, 2010: Defendants move to dismiss the claim on the basis of a lack of Federal Question jurisdiction.

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2600 Penrose Ferry – Tidewater Grain Bldg

Case History

September 27, 2006: Commonwealth Court reverses the Zoning Board of Adjustment decision allowing 38,000 square feet of advertising space on the side of the Tidewater Grain Building.

February 27, 2006: Commonwealth Court hears oral arguments for the case. Preston Ship and Rail attempted to quash Scenic Philadelphia’s appeal based on Act 193 of 2004.

June 7, 2004: ZBA approved the request for variances. Court of Common Pleas later affirmed the ZBA ruling.

Background Information

The property owner is requesting a variance to erect 5 outdoor advertising wallwraps, with a total area of 38,744 square feet, which would blanket the exterior of the former Tidewater Grain building with commercial advertising. This building towers above the landscape and is highly visible from the gateway highways leading visitors to Center City from Philadelphia International Airport. This imposing structure is also visible to park users hoping to enjoy the bucolic setting of FDR Park and to the current and potential businesses operating in the Philadelphia Naval Business Center. The proposed variance violates 26 provisions of Philadelphia’s zoning code, including size, height, and number of structures.






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7146 Wissinoming

Case History

January 11, 2005: The Court of Common Pleas affirmed the Zoning Board’s denial of a request for variance.

October 27, 2004: Oral argument before the Honorable Annette Marie Rizzo, Court of Common Pleas.

March 22, 2004: Zoning Board refused to grant a variance for the outdoor advertising.

February 4, 2004: Owner appeared before the ZBA to request a variance.

June, 2002: L&I cited the owner for illegally erecting the additional sign. A $10,000 fine was assessed when the owner failed to appear for the scheduled hearing.

1975: A zoning permit was issued to erect a single-faced billboard at this address. Instead, two signs were erected.

Background Information

The proposed variance would legalize two existing billboards and install a third billboard structure on the property located at 7164 Wissinoming Street and the northwest corner of Wellington.

This variance request violated several provisions of the 1991 Sign Control Regulations:

– Located in Prohibited Area: within 660 feet of the ingress and egress of I-95; –

– Billboard is not allowed within 500 feet of an existing billboard;

– Billboards exceed the permitted height of 25 feet above the road surface to bottom edge of sign;

– Three sign faces exceed the allowable two sign faces on any one lot;

– Three support structures exceeds the allowable one support structure on any one lot;

– Violates the cap set on the amount of outdoor advertising allowed in the city, does not propose to remove any existing legal signage;

– Billboard is not allowed within 200 feet of a residential property