July 23, 2016

Partly sunny

Brunswick homeowners’ howling puts billboard on hold

The businessmen who hope to erect a large electronic billboard on Interstate 71 in Brunswick have dropped their application for a zoning variance in the face of growing opposition from homeowners.

“We have withdrawn our request for the variance and will be refiling to give time to address community concerns,” said Cal Wible, a partner in Twenty Acres of Woods LLC, which owns the property where the proposed sign would be erected on the east side of the interstate, at the north end of an industrial park.

Homeowners from the Benjamin Farms Homeowners Association and other residents still plan to attend a board of zoning appeals meeting tonight to voice opposition to the sign.

According to the variance request, the sign would be a double-sided, 672-square-foot lighted sign — the equivalent of a 22-by-30-foot billboard — which would stand between 30 and 70 feet above the ground.

Wible said he hoped to prove to residents and City Council members that the sign would be a benefit to local businesses through advertising, and assist law enforcement in publicizing missing persons, criminals at large and weather-related emergencies.

Wible said in a prepared statement that the sign would “receive a tremendous amount of viewers for our safety concerns and will be great advertisement for our non-profit organizations and community events such as Old Fashioned Days without any negative impact to residents.”

At a planning committee meeting last week, however, Councilman Mike Abella, who serves the first ward where the sign would be constructed, said none of Wible’s promises for advertising and public services were in writing.

“We also don’t know who will own the sign five, 10 years down the road,” Abella said.

Abella also said that Twenty Acres of Woods already has rescheduled the meeting for its application once.

“They have changed their meeting dates many times in an attempt to confuse residents,” Abella said.

Abella and Councilman Brian Ousley, at large, said they were outraged by the withdrawal of the variance request, arguing it was designed to avoid a vote by the zoning board.

Ousley, who helped Abella circulate flyers to residents notifying them about the zoning meeting, pointed to an email from attorneys with Twenty Acres of Woods to the city’s law director indicating the measure was withdrawn to avoid an “ambush.”

“They said they felt like they were walking into an ambush,” Ousley said. “It’s not an ambush; it’s a public meeting with residents who have concerns.”

Louis DeCuzzi, president of the Benjamin Farms Homeowners Association, also said he was frustrated that attempts to rally residents against the signs are being thwarted.

“I think it’s a game,” said DeCuzzi, who said he thinks the owners are hoping to return with a variance request after the public outcry has diminished.

“There are signs on the 71 off-ramp about the meeting,” said DeCuzzi, who said he expected a lot of people to attend tonight’s meeting.
More than 400 residents have signed a petition formally opposing the sign.

But DeCuzzi said it might be harder to get people back to another meeting.

“It’s going to deter some people,” he said. “We have a lot of families where both parents work.”

DeCuzzi is asking Council members to consider passing an ordinance that would restrict variance applicants from filing the same paperwork more than three times.

“You can’t apply and then just withdraw again and again,” he said. “We all know this is a tactic.”

But Wible said the reason for postponing the meeting is to address residents’ concerns when Twenty Acres of Woods goes before the zoning board.

Twenty Acres of Woods has established an email address at brunswickbillboard@gmail.com and requested all concerns be sent to the email address.

“We will do our very best to address (the concerns) at the next scheduled hearing,” Wible said.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.