WATERTOWN — The city plans to ignore a state Department of Transportation stipulation that would put a stop to the two digital billboards that local businessman Jake Johnson wants to place on his Court Street building.
Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith said the state DOT told him last week that the signs would violate the federal Highway Beautification Act because it controls outdoor advertising along Route 3 and in the downtown business district.
Two weeks ago, the City Council unanimously agreed that Mr. Johnson could move forward with replacing two existing billboards with the LED digital signs on his building at 104 Court St.
They approved a 3-month moratorium on digital signs with the idea that Mr. Johnson could install the electronic billboards.
But then Mayor Smith was notified by the DOT that there was the issue with the two LED signs.
Mayor Smith brought up issue of the signs during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. During the new business portion of the meeting, the mayor told city staff to move forward with the city’s plans to allow the signs.
“We’re moving ahead,” he said after the meeting.
After the meeting, City Manager Rick Finn said that state could lose federal funding if it violated the federal law regarding scenic highways. He plans to contact DOT officials to find out more about the state’s views on the two signs, while city staff continues to work on moving ahead with new zoning language pertaining to LED signs.
The city must first come up with a change in its zoning for signs before they could go on the building. The two existing billboards are nonconforming and cannot be changed until new zoning language is changed.
The city’s and the county’s planning boards, and the city council would have to act on the new zoning language.
Mayor Smith the city will move ahead despite the DOT, adding it doesn’t make sense because the owner of Big Apple Music recently installed a digital sign just a few hundred yards from Mr. Johnson’s building, and the DOT did not intervene.
A large billboard also has existed for years on the nearby Arsenal Street bridge, Mayor Smith said.