Neighbors, Boston Bowl await final decision on billboard conversion

A billboard in the parking lot of the Boston Bowl property that is being proposed for a digital conversion is at the heart of a neighborhood controversy. Seth Daniel photo

A group of neighbors and the owners of the Boston Bowl property on Morrissey Boulevard are in “wait and see” mode this month as an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) reviews an appeal to convert an existing static sign on the site into a digital billboard that faces the Southeast Expressway.

The state’s Office of Outdoor Advertising (OOA) discussed the matter during its monthly virtual meeting last Thursday and noted that they, too, are awaiting the judge’s decision.

The OOA denied the conversion last January, citing a technical issue. But that decision was appealed in February by the proponents from Bay Colony Associates LLC, which is controlled by Philip Strazzula III and Joseph Sammartino Jr. The billboard is rooted in the parking lot of Boston Bowl, which they also own. Two hearings on the appeal were held in May.

The applicants were denied, said John Romano of the OOA, “due to a spacing issue with another billboard at 65 Tenean Street.” However, he added, before the January denial, Bay Colony had worked out an agreement with the Clear Channel billboard company whereby they would take down the billboard on Tenean Street to eliminate the technical violation. “That was submitted to the judge,” Romano said.

In the meantime, opponents of the conversion, including Port Norfolk activist Maria Lyons and other Dorchester civic leaders, petitioned the ALJ for an “intervenor” to work on the case. An “intervenor” is a party that does not have a substantial and direct interest but has clearly ascertainable interests and perspectives essential to a judicial determination. A hearing on whether to grant them that position was held in late August.

“The Boston residents’ group has petitioned to intervene. We’re sitting tight to see what the judge rules and determine how we go forward,” said Romano…Nothing is final until the hearing officer at ALJ rules.”

Editor's Note: The Administrative Law Judge (ADJ) issued a ruling not long after this story was published. His ruling states that the residents' group has no standing, and thus have not been included in the case. He also refuted their claims about the billboard conversion's potential harms listed by the residents' group. The matter is now back in the hands of the Office of Outdoor Advertising for a decision on whether to continue with the denial of the billboard conversion, or reverse that ruling to an approval of the conversion. There is no stated timeline identified for that decision.

It was noted by those in opposition that Mayor Michelle Wu and Councillor Frank Baker oppose the conversion, as did former Mayor Kim Janey. Also opposed are civic associations like Port Norfolk, Cedar Grove, Clam Point, Columbia/Savin Hill, and the Dorchester Waterfront coalition. The Neponset River Watershed Association also “strongly opposes” the proposal, noting the billboard’s proximity to the Neponset Greenway.

The Pope’s Hill Civic Association does not oppose the billboard conversion, according to statements made during the OOA meeting.

Bay Colony attorney Kelly Frey said that her clients are “hopeful the ALJ will find it appropriate to allow the conversion,” he said. “We have committed to removing seven existing billboards in the surrounding neighborhood. This board already exists and would be only converted to digital format.”

Frey did not return an email from the Reporter seeking to clarify the location of the seven billboards she said are proposed for removal.

Lyons said there are more problems with this board than just a spacing issue. “We believe there are many violations there and we would like to have it publicized that all these other officials and associations are opposed to this billboard there,” she said.

Romano said he was not sure if the matter would come back before the board.

“I can’t promise another hearing and I’m not making any commitments or promises there will be another hearing at my level. We’ll all just wait to see what the judge says,” he concluded.

This story was amended on Thurs., Sept. 15 to reflect a judge's ruling that the residents' group has no standing, and thus would not been included in the case.

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