Letter to the Editor: Let’s all protest digital billboards plan for Morrissey Blvd.

The billboard scene now on US Route 93 at Boston Bowl

To the Editor:

I am writing this letter to encourage Dorchester residents to strongly oppose the request by Bay Colony Associates, Boston Bowl, for two digital billboards on a winged monopole at 820 Morrissey Blvd. The location is next to Interstate 93, directly across from the Neponset River Area of Critical Environmental Concern and highly visible from Tenean Beach, Victory Road Park, Squantum Point Park, the Neponset Greenway, the Dorchester Harborwalk, and large parts of Port Norfolk and Neponset. 

I urge my fellow Dorchester residents to oppose it as well. Digital billboards are ugly, visual blight. It is environmentally and socially unjust to allow them to be built in Dorchester. 

Digital billboards should not be approved by MassDOT. Its Outdoor Advertising Bureau will be holding a virtual hearing on the matter at 11 a.m. on Thurs., May 13. To register to attend remotely, go to the Bureau’s website’s agenda on Mass.gov for information on how to do so.

There are multiple state regulations that apply to this request. Digital billboards need to be treated as new billboards. There is no conversion rule. They should not be within 500 feet of another billboard. They should not be within 300 feet of a river, reservation, park or trail. They should not be placed in neighborhoods overburdened with signs. The location must be primarily commercial.

Recently, 220 units of new housing were approved by the City of Boston to be built within 500 feet of this proposed billboard. The proponents completely ignored the fact that the Neponset River Reservation is situated within 300 feet, directly on the opposite side of Rte. 93. The estuary would be adversely impacted by artificial light, as would the scenic vista within the harbor, and adjacent Tenean Beach.

There are substantial issues surrounding the underlying zoning appeal process leading to approval of this electronic billboard installation. After five years of multiple deferrals, the proponents filed a new request with no notification to the Port Norfolk Civic Association. The ZBA decision incorrectly cites the Zoning Code. Electronic billboards are forbidden, through Article 11-7, in the entire City of Boston, other than in the Lansdowne Street area, the Theater District, and the Seaport Convention Center Districts. Article 11-9 allows conditional use elsewhere under “exceptional circumstances.”

There is nothing in this appeal, nothing in evidence, and nothing in the decision substantiating a finding of such circumstances. Any layperson watching the video of the hearing can see that the ZBA members themselves were confused about the proposal, the law, and their own decision.

There was no legitimate community process. Rather, multiple letters and signatures were submitted by individuals and businesses, a clear majority of whom are located nowhere near the site. The mayor’s office representative stated that there had been a “robust community process.” The ZBA was told that there was no opposition, despite the fact that at least 15 Dorchester civic associations had signed a letter to the mayor opposing all new billboards and digital billboards.

No one disagrees that Boston Bowl is a good company. Sometimes good people need to consider whether they are really acting like good neighbors. Placing an electronic billboard in this location would be an insult to Dorchester. Although we try to be good neighbors ourselves, in this instance, the answer should be no.

Zoning in general is not meant to be a popularity contest. This proposal is wrong. It is against the public good. Bright, flashing lights will harm the wildlife of the ACEC and irritate the visitors to Tenean Beach, which is known as the “Poor Man’s Beach” where people who can’t afford summer homes or vacations relax. The Greenway extension will go right beside it.

In the 1950s, the Dorchester waterfront was forever scarred by the construction of Interstate 93. Since then, the state, through the Department of Conservation and Recreation, has spent millions of dollars on improvements to the Dorchester waterfront, and is about to spend millions more on the Morrissey Boulevard Greenbelt to decrease flooding, but also to increase neighborhood connections to the waterfront and make it more green. We also have beautiful public parks and trails.

The addition of digital billboards will negatively impact all of this good work done by the state, and increase further the perception of Dorchester as a blighted area. Is this the future we want?

Please join me in sending letters of opposition to the Office of Outdoor Advertising, Attn: John R Romano, Director; Ten Park Plaza, Room 6141, Boston , MA 02116.

Maria Lyons
Port Norfolk

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