A full-fledged billboard war is brewing in Delaware County.
Three townships are digging in against a young entrepreneur who wants to erect at least 19 double-sided billboards along Baltimore Pike, Lancaster Avenue and West Chester Pike - and possibly more throughout the region.
The first clash is expected tonight, when Bartkowski Investment Group (BIG), will make its case to Springfield's zoning hearing board. Township commissioners are fighting the company's proposal.
Headed by 28-year-old Thaddeus Bartkowski III, the Delaware-based group is challenging zoning ordinances in Springfield, Marple and Haverford that regulate outdoor advertising.
Bartkowski wants to place seven 672-square-foot billboards along a one-mile stretch of Baltimore Pike; five billboards on West Chester Pike and Lancaster Avenue, in Haverford; and seven billboards on Sproul Road and West Chester Pike, in Marple.
"All of a sudden, they're going to have a beautiful view of a 62-foot-high illuminated billboard," he said.
Opposition is building rapidly in all three municipalities, according to elected officials, and Bartkowski's plans for the suburbs have landed on the radar of SCRUB, the Philadelphia-based group that has successfully fought new billboards and signs in the city.
"Billboards stigmatize neighborhoods," said Mary Tracy, SCRUB's executive director. "When you see a billboard sticking out of a building or a parking lot it sends out a message.
"You don't see them in the best neighborhoods, put it that way."
Springfield's meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. tonight in the administration building. Marple and Haverford will hold meetings in the coming months.
"These billboards will be within 50 feet of homes," said Haverford Commissioner Jeff Heilmann. "So, needless to say, my e-mails are coming in fairly strong against. A lot of people are saying they're worried about their home values."
Bartkowski, who lives in Chester County, declined to comment yesterday other than in a prepared statement sent by his lawyer, which said that the proposed sites on Baltimore Pike are "far removed from any residential dwellings." The statement did not mention the other locations.
Bartkowski would not discuss a recent Philadelphia Business Journal report that said that he planned to erect more neighborhood billboards throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
But Carla Zambelli, a Lower Merion community activist who lives near where the Lancaster Avenue billboards would be erected, said that Bartkowski might have underestimated the negative reaction.
"I don't think he should count his billboards before they've hatched," she said. *