Electronic Billboard Proposal Moving Forward Despite Great Opposition

A double-sided, 90-foot electronic billboard that would change the skyline of Charlestown is moving forward to a Zoning Board (ZBA) hearing on May 7 despite a consistent amount of neighborhood support from abutters on Cambridge Street.

The 90-foot billboard would be anchored in the Owens family’s school bus parking lot on the corner of Cambridge Street and Spice Street, and the towering, two-sided electronic board would target commuters on I-93 – rising up about nine stories so as to be visible on the elevated interstate.

It is being proposed by Edward Owens, of the Owens Moving company that is based in Everett and owns a great deal of property in Charlestown’s industrial area. It was first proposed in March 2018 but had several community meetings last fall just before Thanksgiving.

It was on the docket for Feb. 5 this year but was pulled at the last minute.

Now, on May 7, after several other continuances at the ZBA, the matter will go before the Board once again and is expected not to be pulled this time.

Amongst the mainland of Charlestown, the matter has been rather quiet, even though it will be quite visible for most residents on the west side of Bunker Hill Street.

However, on Cambridge Street and in the Lost Village, the opposition has been very pronounced.

In the public file, no fewer than a dozen neighbors had submitted official letters of opposition against the billboard last fall.

Ann Marie Callahan wrote that the Sullivan Square area contains 80 percent of billboards in Charlestown, which is 24 of 30.

“Most of those were erected without community input due to being placed on state-owned land,” she wrote. “Eight of these billboards are visible from my front stairs. The proposal not only further burdens our neighborhood, but also violates zoning. There is no need for an additional billboard, and there is no reason this appeal should be granted…Mr. Owens has done nothing to improve this land, he has done nothing for the community and he continues to ask our neighborhood…to accept blight that exceeds zoning so as to improve his bottom line.”

Said Lauren Towne, of Perkins Street, “I am frankly stunned that this proposal is even being entertained. I can’t believe we actually have to oppose this and that our zoning ordinances aren’t sufficient protection. What a waste of taxpayer resources.”

The billboard does have one strong ally, and that being the Teamsters Union – whose buildings abut the school bus yard.

They said they support it because the Owens family has indicated a certain amount of the net proceeds from the billboard advertising revenues would be contributed in perpetuity for Charlestown organizations and for Boston youth homelessness issues.

The City, nor the Mayor’s Office, has not taken a position on the matter, and to date there was only one community meeting last fall.

The May 7 hearing is scheduled for the morning, though ZBA meetings are notoriously late-running.

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