Signs of the times

Revere has some serious complaints about billboards.

That’s the message the city’s elected officials have been sending since March when one storm after another twisted and tore up three billboards on North Shore Road. The sign wreckage along one of the major roads running through Revere has become the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back for a City Council that has long debated the need for stringent sign regulations.

According to city records, Revere hosts 90 billboards with the lion’s share of the signs located where big signs are typically located — highways, major roads, intersections, and in commercial areas. Billboards play a role in commercial districts as business promotion tools and ways for regional and nationally-oriented businesses to advertise.

They also play important roles as public awareness tools with billboard owners publicizing community initiatives including fire safety education, domestic violence awareness, and other vital causes.

But March’s tough weather has obviously brought matters to a head between Clear Channel Outdoor, owner of the three billboards, and the Revere City Council. Billboard proliferation is not a new gripe for local elected officials and councilors are ready and willing to regulate billboards.

Councilors like Ward 5’s John Powers get calls from neighbors and constituents irate over the sight of wrecked signs on one of the city’s busiest roads. Some of the complaints are from neighbors wondering if the next storm will send one of the already-damaged 14-foot by 48-foot signs slamming into a home.

The latest proposal before the council bans new billboards; regulates digital signs with their glaring red or yellow electronic messages and sets up fines and permitting rules for billboards. Billboard companies are no strangers to communities seeking to regulate billboards and the company, on behalf of its advertising clients, wants to do business in Revere and around the region.

The council has debated billboard regulations previously with no definitive action taken on signs. Problems that sparked regulatory proposals were often fixed before they could be debated or the proposals never saw the light of day.

They may be benign objects, but billboards are easy sources for disagreement and disputes at the municipal level. Now is the time for level-headed city officials, including Mayor Brian Arrigo, to bring billboard companies and councilors together in a room to talk about billboards in Revere and ways to keep their owners as well as business owners and residents happy about the big signs.

Councilors like Ward 1’s Joanne McKenna may get their way and win council passage of a ban on new billboards and tough regulations governing existing signs. But sign owners and their clients aren’t going away anytime soon so it makes sense for city officials to sit down with billboard owners to find middle ground for regulating signs and a sensible, timely plan for keeping them maintained.

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