January 2024 —
Last year, NepRWA and a coalition of local advocates successfully blocked a proposal to build an electronic billboard in the middle of the Neponset Estuary at the 2 Granite Avenue building in Milton opposite Neponset Park.
This fall, we seemingly pulled victory from the jaws of defeat in our campaign to block a different electronic billboard proposal—this one at the Boston Bowl property in Dorchester.
This proposed electronic billboard would have cast the overpowering glow of its ever-flickering images on the Neponset River, the newest section of the Neponset Greenway Trail and Tenean Beach for generations to come. Unlike in Milton, this was a proposal to convert an existing conventional billboard to electronic technology.
Billboards must be approved by the MA Office of Outdoor Advertising. The original permit hearing before the Office of Outdoor Advertising was vigorously argued on all sides. When the dust had settled, the Office of Outdoor Advertising denied the billboard permit, but only on narrow grounds, even though the sign was within 300’ of state parklands, a clear violation of the state’s own regulations.
This poorly crafted denial left an opening for Boston Bowl and their nationally-funded partners, Outfront Media, to appeal. During the court hearing, lawyers for Boston Bowl and Outfront Media argued that this section of Dorchester and the Neponset River was “Nothing but rats and rocks.” In the end, the judge refused to consider the fact that the billboard violates the state’s parkland setback requirement, granted the Applicant’s appeal, and ordered the Office of Outdoor Advertising to issue Boston Bowl an electronic billboard permit.
When the state declined to pursue a further appeal, advocates thought all had been lost.
But, days later, the Outdoor Advertising Board, now operating under a newly appointed chairman, former Boston City Councilor Tim McCarthy, issued a formidable letter to Boston Bowl and Outfront Media. The letter said the Outdoor Advertising Board would comply with the Court’s order, and issue the electronic billboard permit, but would then immediately revoke it, because the Applicant and their lawyers had misrepresented the billboard’s distance from parklands during the original hearing, claiming it was more than 300’ away, when in fact it is less than 300’ as we the advocates had pointed out.
Many Thanks for a Good Outcome
A huge thank you to the newly-appointed Chair of the MA Office of Outdoor Advertising, former Boston City Councilor Tim McCarthy, for standing up for the community, the Neponset Greenway and the Neponset River. Many thanks also to Mayor Michelle Wu and other state officials and staff for supporting the grass-roots effort to block this eyesore.
Finally, our deepest gratitude to the community advocates who worked so hard on this issue, including the Port Norfolk Civic Association and particularly Maria and John Lyons, the Boston residents group chaired by Frank O’Brien, and attorney Charlie Tevnan who was instrumental in the campaign. It’s a privilege for NepRWA staff to have worked on this issue alongside community leaders who believe in the importance of a healthy, accessible River.
Before we congratulate ourselves too much, bear in mind that we would not be at all surprised to see further litigation on this issue from Boston Bowl and OutFront Media, and we are in the process of investigating whether we can request that the license for the existing non-electronic billboard be revoked, because it also violates the parkland setback rule. Stay tuned…
Ian Cooke, NepRWA Executive Director