Alarmed by the proliferation of digital billboards in Pennsylvania, residents, environmentalists, and local officials had the same message for state lawmakers Wednesday: Give municipalities more power to restrict electronic signage.
"Without our intervention, [companies] will find such creative places to install their billboards," said Phil Dague, a Downingtown Borough Council member. "Every nook and cranny of the state will be affected."
Dague was among about 10 people who testified at a hearing called by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee on how to strengthen a bill introduced in June by Sen. Andy Dinniman (D., Chester), one of four legislators on the panel in Downingtown.
Under the proposal, billboard companies would be required to meet with representatives of both PennDot and the proposed site's municipality. Before approving a digital billboard, the municipality would have to hold hearings.
The bill would amend the Outdoor Advertising Control Act of 1971, which the senators said is technologically outdated.
Critics say digital billboards distract drivers, ruin scenic views, and can reduce property values. Proponents say they are less expensive than traditional signage for businesses, more effective at targeting customers, and necessary to distribute emergency information.
In a written statement to the senators, George T. Merovich, president of the Outdoor Advertising Association of Pennsylvania, said members worry that if the bill passes, they could face "an unnecessary regulatory burden."
For the last five months, some Downingtown residents have protested the digital billboard along the Route 30 Bypass because it shines into their homes. Council members and residents said the billboard company misled them into believing the sign would be "innocuous."
Downingtown Mayor Josh Maxwell said the borough "did not have the ordinances in place or the authority granted by the state to prevent this billboard from going up."
Residents of Phoenixville and Lower Oxford in Chester County, as well as Haverford and Marple Townships in Delaware County, also have voiced opposition to digital and static billboards.
Those who testified Wednesday asked that the bill ensure that municipal officials are given the information and tools they need to penalize companies that provide incorrect information.
Ernie Holling, president of the Chester County Association of Township Officials, suggested billboard companies simultaneously submit applications to PennDot and the municipality, so everyone is included in the process from the beginning.
Toward the end of the hearing, Michael McCalley, an attorney who said he works on behalf of the billboard industry, asked that industry officials have an opportunity to submit written comments for the committee to consider, because "it is imperative that you get it right."
Sen. Lisa Boscola (D., Lehigh), chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, said she welcomed further suggestions.