The proposal Lantigua recently sent to the City Council would have reopened the door to billboards in Lawrence, but only in the industrial zones. Besides the mills along the Merrimack River and Malden Mills, the zones include a warehouse district on Andover Street and several acres on Marston Street that includes the Commonwealth Motors dealership, where the electronic billboard erected as part of the state’s pilot program now greets drivers as they enter the city limits from the east.
Lantigua and Patrick Blanchette, the city’s director of economic development, did not return phone calls seeking information about their proposal to bring back billboards. The proposal would allow billboards only by special permit, meaning each application to erect a billboard would be considered separately and require a public hearing.
Norm Nimmo, the chairman of the city Planning Board, which endorsed the zoning changes that would allow billboards, said the plan is intended to make money for the city.
“Given the situation for the city right now, anything is worth trying,” Nimmo said. “We’re in desperate straits. We voted for revenue, is the long and short of it.”
There’s a lot to be made. Nimmo said larger billboards were earning $3,300 a month for their owners when he rented one a decade ago for Bread and Roses, a local non-profit agency. A slice of the rent went to the city.
There are losers too. A 2011 study by an urban planner from Philadelphia found that while billboards make money for landowners who allow them, neighboring properties suffer.
“Billboards negatively impact home values,” planner Jonathan Snyder said in the study, which is posted on the website of Scenic America, an environmental organization dedicated to improving the view from America’s roads. “For each additional billboard in a (Philadelphia) census tract, there is a $947 decrease in home value. Considering that the mean number of billboards in a census tract is 4.8, the resulting decrease in value is $4,546 per house for homes in such districts when compared to the price of an equivalent home in a census tract without billboards.”