Nancy Ebel, St. Joseph
On a dark November night, at a sparsely attended meeting, a decision was made that does affect you. On Nov. 12, the St. Joseph Township Board welcomed electronic billboards into our community. They determined there is no difference between these electronic distractions and their traditional counterparts. Itʼs merely a matter of a “maintenance upgrade.” This sets a precedent for other billboards in the township to easily get a “maintenance upgrade” also. As the electronic billboards are more profitable for the landowner and the billboard company, you can guess the outcome of this story. And so our hamlet joins the ranks of St. Cloudʼs Division Street.
But community aesthetics aside, why should you care? Because it might affect your pocketbook. In a 2011 study done in Pittsburgh by city planner Jonathan Snyder (Beyond Aesthetics: How Billboards Affect Economic Prosperity), it was conclusively demonstrated billboards negatively affect surrounding home values. It was found homes within 500 feet of a billboard were $30,826 less valuable at the time of purchase than homes that were not. But luckily you are not that close, so why should you care? Because it still might affect your property value. The Pittsburgh study also looked at home values as related to billboard numbers within the cityʼs U.S. census tracts. They found within the census tracts that EACH billboard reduced the value of the homes by $947. This study was done in 2011 and did not bring up the electronic billboard issue, but as electronic billboards have more visual impact, the effect on our community could be even greater.
The St. Joseph City Council is also dealing with this subject. They are currently considering a request (extended for the next couple of months) for an electronic billboard on the west side of town. This billboard is located in a residential neighborhood behind Centennial Park. They have also recently placed a one-year moratorium on electronic-sign applications in the city in order to study this issue further. So this is our chance. We need to ask ourselves if this is really maintenance, or is this madness? Are traditional and electronic billboards really the same? Do we really want commercials flashing at us as we drive down the street? Will the billboard companies plan the landscape of St. Joseph (and they are at every meeting!), or will it be the people? Is it one landownerʼs right to make a profit at the expense of another landownerʼs view and property values? Will the St. Joseph Township Board and City Council uphold the common good or cave to the billboard industry? Will you be heard on this issue?
Note: The billboard on the east side of town is currently on a dimmer setting than previously, but the fact remains there is no entity regulating electronic billboard brightness or movement other than the ownerʼs discretion.