City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown has introduced a bill to allow bill boards, building wraps and other signs on school district owed or controlled buildings. The bill specifically exempts the signs from the Zoning Code. The Councilwoman's intent is to raise much needed funds for the schools, a laudable goal that might well backfire.

There is school district controlled property in almost every residential neighborhood, including East Falls. Do you want to see a billboard from your bedroom window or as you walk around your neighborhood? This bill, as written, would allow billboards in places where they have been prohibited for decades.
Concerned about this proposal, the Crosstown Coalition of neighborhood civics arranged a meeting with the Councilwoman's staff to talk about it.

First, we asked if anyone had considered the impact of such advertising, or even the possibility of such advertising, on nearby residential property values or future residential development? In fact, someone has. The Fels Institute did a study last year and concluded that there would be a negative effect, that there is a statistically significant negative impact between proximity to bill boards and property values. The property value reduction was $30,000+ for homes within 500 feet of a billboard and the more billboards in a census tract, the lower the values. I suspect that the impact is way higher for higher value residences. Would you want to buy a home across from a bill board, if you had a choice, for any price? Would a developer considering a residential project want to build near a legal bill board site?

We asked the Councilwoman's staff if anyone had calculated the impact of lost real estate tax revenue due to lower home values and the discouragement of residential development near school district property? Is it worth this loss to possibly bring in a million or two in bill board revenue?

We asked about the content of such advertising. The bill prohibits tobacco and liquor (controlled substances), but not sodas, snack foods, or casinos. If these were to be excluded, there would likely be a challenge on First Amendment grounds.

We were told that ultimately the School Reform Commission ("SRC") would have to decide whether to "take advantage" of this opportunity. We noted that if the SRC were to decide to forgo the opportunity, many in Harrisburg might argue that Philadelphia deserves less support for its schools because it was leaving something on the table, even if the net impact would have lower property tax revenue or undesirable advertising to our kids.

The Councilwoman's staff listened carefully and took a lot of notes. They said the bill will be amended before being called for a vote. We do not know what those amendments might be. We hope that upon reflection, the Councilwoman will look elsewhere for money for our schools.

You may contact Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown at 215-686- 3438/39 or blondell.reynolds.brown@phila.gov. If you want to see the Fels study, you may contact me through info@eastfallscommunity.org.

Marjorie Greenfield, Philadelphia

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