UPDATED with additional photos and maps
By William E. Cleary Sr. | CNBNewsnet
GLOUCESTER CITY, NJ--Gloucester City Mayor and Council approved an ordinance last month updating the City's 2018 Master Plan. As a result of the revisions, billboards will now be allowed to be erected next to the Walt Whitman Bridge at several locations. Excerpts of the ordinance appear below.
For decades the City was against any plan to construct billboards near the bridge located in the north end of town close to neighboring Camden City. City council representatives and residents said the billboards would block the view of the city as you drove over the Walt Whitman Bridge from Philadelphia into South Jersey.
Mayor Dan Spencer was asked why after 34 years the City is allowing billboards to be erected near the bridge?
Spencer said, "What has changed is that we are here 30 years later and technology has advanced and has allowed for illuminated billboards that are more appealing than the archaic stagnant billboards of the past. The billboards are 150 feet in the air and will still leave for a wide view to those traveling over the Walt Whitman Bridge looking over at Gloucester City."
"The real advantage to the city is the revenue that will be generated each year estimated to be $190,000 (conservatively) which is about 4 cents on the tax rate. Also, the city will have access to all four billboards to advertise and market Gloucester City and also announce all of our city events, amber alerts, silver alerts, and any other emergency messaging appropriately."
"As you may be aware, the Planning and Zoning Board has allowed for a billboard location in the Master Plan. There was a public hearing held on the Master Plan, along with a Public Hearing held by Mayor and Council on September 24. I voted against billboards 34 years ago when I was a young councilman, but, for the reasons I mentioned above, I voted in favor of the plan as mayor. The rest of the Council voted unanimously to approve the billboards as in this day and age we must seek out and secure other means of revenue to take the tax burden off of our citizens and taxpayers."
In the late 1980's Charles Bakely who owned an iron fabricating business in Westville, was one of the first people to seek the city's permission to erect two billboards under the bridge. A former Gloucester City resident and a past Westville councilman, Bakely, during an interview with this reporter said the city could realize as much as $100,000 annually if they would allow him to proceed with his plan to erect the signs.
In 1992 or thereabout Intervine Outdoor Advertising Inc. sought permission for a bulk variance to construct three freestanding billboards on property it intended to lease from Holt Cargo Systems adjacent to the New Jersey approach to the Walt Whitman Bridge. Their plans called for three double-faced, steel free-standing pole signs with one being placed on the south side of the Walt Whitman Bridge and two on the north side. Each sign would be externally lit at the bottom, measuring 16 feet by 60 feet, and would be located approximately 30 feet above the bridge roadway, approximately 90 feet above the ground, and approximately 30 feet from the bridge rights-of-way. In addition to commercial advertisements, Intervine proposed to use the reverse side of the signs for noncommercial advertisements and messages.
After the application was denied the owners of the Intervine business filed a lawsuit against the City of Gloucester City and the City Zoning Board. The case made its way to the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1996. Judge Theodore Z. Davis, found that the Zoning Board's denial of the plaintiff's application for a use and bulk variance finds support in the evidence and was not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable.
Eighteen years later, in 2014 the idea for erecting billboards in the same area popped up again. This time the Gloucester City Planning Board voted 6-2 to deny a resolution recommending City Council change the zoning of the city-owned bridge-side property from residential to commercial/industrial in order to install billboards.
Board member Jess Torres said the Board had fought very hard in 1992 to keep the billboards from going up, which they achieved by the 1997 decision to disallow the bridge-side signage, according to the Gloucester City News reporter Linda Boker
Fellow member Mark Williams agreed that the quaint first view of the city, with the swim club pools and Saint Mary’s steeple, offered to drivers coming over the Walt Whitman Bridge would be shattered by the presence of an unsightly billboard.
Councilman Nicholas Marchese said the billboards could bring advertising dollars to the city. He said he did not really see how the signs would be detrimental to the city’s skyline or image.
Williams countered that the city would always need money, but once the billboards were approved, a precedent would be set that could change the city landscape forever.
Several residents offered the same opinion during the public section, suggesting t the presence of billboards, despite any potential revenue to the city, would cheapen the image of the town.
THE LEGAL NOTICE changing the City's Master Plan was adopted on Sept. 24
The change allows advertising signs, subject to certain conditions along with piers for the mooring of ships and waterborne cargo vessels for the purpose of loading and unloading of cargo, warehouses for the storage of cargo in transit.
According to the Legal Notice, the advertising signs they shall be permitted as an additional principal use of a property; no advertising sign shall be located more than two-hundred (200) feet from the Right-of-Way of the Walt Whitman Bridge (Interstate 76) unless it can be demonstrated that locating an advertising sign within 200 feet of the Right-of-Way of the Walt Whitman Bridge is infeasible due to conditions of the soil, the placement of utilities, or other such conditions which present a practical hardship.
The ordinance outlines rules for the placement of billboards in the north end of the City near the Walt Whitman Bridge. The idea was squashed in the past because of outcry from members of the public who were against the proposal as the billboards would block the view of Gloucester City from the bridge.
Furthermore, in such event an advertising sign may be located no more than 250 feet from the Right-of-Way of the Walt Whitman Bridge; no advertising sign shall be located closer than one thousand (1,000) feet from any other advertising sign on the same side of the Right-of-Way; no advertising sign shall be located so as to interfere with the safe sight distances or visibility at an intersection of public or private streets; no more than two (2) advertising sign structures shall be permitted on any parcel; advertising sign faces shall be permitted to have a maximum sign area of 672 square feet; advertising sign faces shall have a maximum sign face height of 14 feet, and a maximum sign face width of 48 feet; each advertising sign structure shall have no more than two (2) advertising sign faces; advertising signs may have digital and static sign faces, and advertising signs shall comply with all applicable State and Federal laws.
5. Included prohibited uses in the PCH district are residential uses, retail uses, salvage yards of any type, junkyards, and marine repair yards. 6. Establishes certain area and bulk requirements for minimum parcel size, minimum property frontage, minimum setbacks, maximum building height, and maximum impermeable coverage.
7. Establishes certain performance standards for any port of cargo handling use in the City of Gloucester City. 8. Amends the Gloucester City Development Ordinance, Article VI, Note 20, to permit advertising signs within the Port Cargo Handling (PCH) zoning district of the City, subject to various restrictions including advertising signs shall be freestanding signs only.
No advertising sign shall be permitted to be a roof-mounted sign, banner sign, awning, canopy, or wall sign; the maximum sign area of any advertising sign face shall be six-hundred seventy-two (672) square feet; no advertising sign structure shall have more than two (2) sign faces; the maximum height of any advertising sign shall be 75 feet above the grade of the roadway on the Walt Whitman Bridge. the height measurement shall be from the roadway's centerline at grade directly perpendicular to the sign; electronic or digital advertising signs with changeable messages may be permitted, however no animation, flashing, or flickering of lighting shall be permitted; electronic or digital advertising signs with changeable messages shall have a minimum message duration of eight (8) seconds per message; non-electronic or non-digital advertising sign faces may be externally illuminated provided that all lighting is designed to be directed towards the advertising sign and minimize any potential light spillover onto adjoining properties; 9. Creates general regulations to all permitted and pre-existing non¬conforming signs including only those signs identifying the name, business, occupant, service, address, or product offered or sold on the premises shall be permitted to be erected.
Coming events, community bulletin boards and time and temperature signs shall also be permitted; signs within the interior of a structure, designed to be seen and read from the exterior, shall be considered as part of any maximum signs area; signs attached to a principal structure shall not extend above the roof line of the parapet; electronic or digital advertising signs with changeable messages may be permitted, however no animation, flashing, or flickering of lighting shall be permitted; electronic or digital advertising signs with changeable messages shall have a minimum message duration of eight (8) seconds per message; unless otherwise stipulated in this ordinance, the top of free-standing signs shall not exceed the height limit of principal structures in the zone where located or 25 feet; whichever is less; with the exception of awning or canopy signs in the CRO and RC&S districts, no sign, whether permanent or temporary, other than municipal, county or state signs, shall be erected within the right-of-way of any street or approved sight easements nor shall any sign be located to constitute a traffic hazard; no sign, be it of a political, educational, charitable, civic, professional, religious or like nature, or of personal nature, shall be erected upon any utility pole, tree, light standard, or monument located within the right-of-way of any street or on any public property; all temporary signs, excluding banner signs for business or commercial establishments, announcing or advertising any political, educational, charitable, civic, professional, religious or like campaign or event, shall be removed by the advertiser within five days after the event shall have taken place;
10. Prohibits advertising signs in any zoning district in the City, except for the Port Cargo Holding (PCH) District. A minimum of three (3) copies of the entire Ordinance is on file for public examination and/or purchase at the office of the City of Gloucester City Clerk. The proposed Ordinance is scheduled for further consideration at a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. on September 24, 2020, at the City Court Room, 313 Monmouth Street, Gloucester City, New Jersey 08030. The Ordinance shall take effect upon passage, filing, and publication according to law. You may attend the public hearing and be heard in person or by a lawful representative.
Vanessa Parent, R.M.C., City Clerk ($134.20)