U.S. 42 Billboard risks outweigh the benefits
By Vicki Kerman, Concerned Citizens for Your Safety –
On Monday, September 10, the Cardington Township Trustees held a regularly-scheduled meeting. Representatives from Concerned Citizens for Your Safety (CCFYS) attended. Lind Media’s billboard appeals hearing has been scheduled for September 26.
We asked for and were given a copy of Lind’s appeal application. It is provided in its entirety on www.billboardsafety.org. There are several points in Lind’s cover letter which are either materially incorrect or misrepresent the truth, and which beg our response.
1. Lind states that “It is our feeling that [the revocation of the permit on August 21] is a result of a small, well organized group of individuals that has threatened and bullied the Township officials based on an unfounded highway safety argument.”
This is incorrect. The permit was revoked because the CR 128/TR 143 intersection was not recognized as being an intersection by either the Township Zoning Officer, Lind employees, or Lind’s president, himself. As we have presented before, Ohio Revised Code 4511.01(KK)-1 clearly defines an intersection, and this meets that definition. In addition, it is paved, maintained by the county, has stop signs at each end, and is frequently used.
Lind’s president has been doing this for 21 years. Lind has no fewer than 215 billboard locations in Northern Ohio alone. According to Lind’s website, “Expertise in location acquisition, permitting, and development is perhaps the hallmark of [our company].” In addition, Flats Capital (an 11-year-old company owned by Lind’s president and his wife, and which purchased the property) owns no fewer than 12 properties in Richland County, seven of which are small parcels with the only structure being a billboard.
The net result is that Lind president and his staff, with all of their experience, should have been familiar with the Ohio Revised Code definition of an intersection. Billboard erection required a variance. Period.
2. Lind states that “Literal application of the zoning code in this instance would result in undue and unnecessary hardship.”
This is not a hardship case. In 1935, the State rerouted US 42, creating the triangle, and financially compensated the owners for the loss of property use. Since that time, it has been carried on the Morrow County Auditor’s books as “wasteland,” valued at a mere $300. If a variance had been applied for prior to Flats Capital purchasing the parcel, there would not have been an “unnecessary hardship” because the State had already paid the owner for loss of use.
Even though Flats Capital bought the parcel and the billboards have been erected, it still is not a hardship. They, as well as the Township, made an error in reading and applying the zoning code. Both Lind and Flats Capital had every opportunity to look at the Township’s zoning regulations, which are on the Township’s website for everyone to see.
We caught the error not more than 10 minutes after looking on the Township’s website and reading the zoning code. And we have no special expertise in zoning or billboard permitting. Given their expertise and extensive experience, the president, or one of his employees, whose job it is to evaluate zoning codes, could/should have caught this as well when performing their due diligence.
If there is a hardship, they brought it upon themselves. Self-imposed hardships do not qualify for a variance.
3. Lind states, “Despite our belief … that billboards are safety neutral, we offered to work with the community group to advocate legitimate roadway upgrades including guardrails, traffic signals, roadway vacation, and vegetation management. We have not been taken up on this offer.”
Several points here.
First, the US 42 curve is already a dangerous one. There have been 22 accidents, including one fatality, in less than six years. The Cardington Fire Chief, in an interview with Mansfield TV, cited the numerous times when he has had to pull vehicles out of the ditch in the triangle.
Second, the billboards are located at an ideal spot for maximum driver distraction. They capture eyes for a longer period of time than if they were on a straight-away, and are seen with “central,” as opposed to “peripheral” vision.
Third, if the billboards are approved, they can easily be converted from “poster boards” to even more distracting CEVMS (Changing Electronic Variable Message Signs) by applying to and paying a fee to the State. It is a mere formality. The Township has no rules in its code about this type of sign.
Fourth, the columns present a severe hazard to motorists who, for whatever reason, lose control of their vehicle and end up in the triangle. With the columns there, the driver risks wrapping the vehicle around one of them, with the potential for severe injury, if not death to him/herself or his/her passengers.
In such an unfortunate event, not only would there be risk to human life, but there would also be a huge financial risk to the Township, as a relative of an affected motorist could easily sue them, citing that even though the Township officials knew in advance that the billboards presented a safety hazard, there was a liability because they had allowed them to remain.
Finally, what about those guard rails? First , they make it worse for motorcyclists. Second, installing these would be admitting up front that the billboards present a safety problem. To take a curve which is already dangerous and make it less safe is irresponsible at best.
4. Lind states, “The billboards at US 42 are a community asset and a key economic driver for the business community.”
We question valuing business growth above human life.
CCFYS would never advertise on one of these billboards. Why? Because the last thing we would like to see is a picture of our ad on one of those panels above a mangled car wrapped around one of the columns, with ambulance lights flashing as they transport the severely injured or killed persons away.
5. Finally, Lind states, “They were installed in good faith and proper authority.” We question this sentiment as well.
Immediately after we discovered the problem with the permit – before the billboards had been erected – we emailed and subsequently talked with Lind’s president to give him a “heads up” that there might be a problem with the permit, and that he might want to hold off any further construction until it was resolved. This was a Wednesday late afternoon. The next day, on Thursday, all four billboards went up, and on Sunday, three days later, two welding crews were on site affixing the platforms.
CCFYS is truly concerned that Lind has not only misrepresented the truth in many aspects of their filing, but that they view our opposition to the billboards as being misplaced.
Our position – that the billboards add an unnecessary safety hazard to an already-dangerous curve – is widespread. Community members with whom we talk are virtually unanimous in their high level of concern, are confused as to how the Township officials could have let them be erected in the first place, and feel that they need to be taken down. We have just started circulating a petition to document the prevalence of this sentiment. If you would like to add your voice to this effort, please consider signing the petition, or even circulating one yourself. Feel free to call me at (419) 946‑1505 to do so!
Oh, and pencil in September 26 at 7 PM at the Cardington Township building on your calendar. Even though we aren’t allowed to speak, the meeting is open to the public. What a great opportunity to see first-hand how decisions are made!