Tarentum board rejects appeal for digital billboard at bridge | TribLIVE.com
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Brian C. Rittmeyer

A billboard company owner says he will continue to fight in court for the right to put a digital billboard at the Tarentum end of the Tarentum Bridge.

Jerry Oliver, owner of Oliver Outdoor, said he will take his case to Allegheny County court after Tarentum’s five-member Zoning Hearing Board on Wednesday unanimously rejected his appeal of zoning Officer Anthony Bruni’s ruling that the billboard does not comply with borough zoning regulations.

“We feel it should be permitted,” Oliver said.

In arguing for the billboard, Oliver played up its potential community and civic benefits, while his attorney, Rebecca Bowman, argued that confusion in the borough’s zoning regulations gives the board flexibility to approve it.

But Gerald DeAngelis, the Zoning Hearing Board’s solicitor, noted that the board rejected two previous proposals for billboards in the same area in 2016.

Oliver said his company wants to put up a Watchfire sign, which is a full-color digital display that can change advertisements on a preprogrammed basis.

Butler-based Oliver has an easement for a 48-inch-diameter pole at 107 E. Fourth Ave., an empty lot now used for tractor-trailer parking below the bridge. The pole would rise 5 to 10 feet above the road and have a two-faced LED sign 14 feet high and 48 feet wide.

Oliver said his company has a similar sign in North Apollo and hopes to place one in New Kensington.

The company submitted its request to Tarentum in January and it was rejected that same month. The appeal was filed in April.

Oliver asked the board to consider the billboard an asset to the community. He said it could be used to promote community events, display public safety notifications and support borough businesses, all at no cost.

“We pride ourselves on our reputation. We do what we say, and we say what we do,” he said. “We want to be a friend to the community.”

The sign would adjust its lighting as needed, getting brightest in direct sunlight, Oliver said. He claimed concerns that such signs are a distraction to drivers and a safety hazard are not substantiated by studies and statistics.

Oliver said his company does not accept advertising messages it finds distasteful, harmful or for adult businesses such as adult bookstores and gentleman’s clubs.

It would not flash, scroll or show video, he said. Messages would change every 7.5 seconds.

While borough council President Erika Josefoski mentioned concern that such a sign would block views of the historic town, Oliver said, “We believe it will block nothing.

“I don’t know what it could block,” he said.

On a day marked by gusty thunderstorms, Oliver said the billboard would withstand winds up to 90 mph.

“We do it right,” he said. “Our name is on the sign, literally.”

Further advancing his pledge to work with the community, Oliver said his company would place lights on the billboard’s pole to illuminate the poorly lit steps going up to the bridge.

Bowman cited conflicting and apparently incomplete sections of the borough’s zoning regulations, including references pointing to provisions she claimed were not there and a mention of an entire zoning classification, heavy commercial, that apparently does not exist.

She said those issues give the Zoning Hearing Board “substantial flexibility” in deciding how to deal with Oliver Outdoor’s request.

“I would ask you to avail yourself of that flexibility,” she said.

The bridge would be a prime location for a billboard. An estimated 30,000 vehicles cross it daily, according to PennDOT.

The only approved billboard in Tarentum is along Route 28. Those already near the bridge are grandfathered, meaning they predate the zoning regulations, according to borough officials.

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