Thaddeus Bartkowski III, owner of Bartkowski Investment Group, Inc.’s (BIG), shares his views with Patch as several townships–including and –decide the fate of the billboard controversy. The Haverford Township Zoning Hearing Board will decide on the issue at 7 p.m. at Thursday's meeting.
The locations of the seven billboards that BIG proposes in Marple Township include locations on the 2300 block of West Chester Pike, 2500 block of West Chester Pike, 2600 block of West Chester Pike, 2500 block of Summit Avenue and 1900 and two on the 2100 block of Sproul Road.
Marple argues its amended sign ordinance–amended on Jan. 5, 2009–was filed valid to this case denying BIG's proposed seven billboards in the township along West Chester Pike and Sproul Road, while BIG challenged Marple's amended ordinance. BIG and Marple are battling it out in the Court of Common Pleas and the controversy has been a little over two years running.
However, Haverford Township has an ordinance that bans billboards within the township, but in an interview with Patch Wednesday afternoon, Bartkowski said that the ordinance is unconstitutional and goes against the commonwealth’s constitution, which Marc Kaplin and Carl Primavera, BIG’s representatives, have been maintaining during township–such as Newtown–zoning hearing board’s hearings.
BIG proposes to erect three locations along West Chester Pike in Newtown, including the auto shop at 3105 West Chester Pike; Newtown Hair Stylng at 3517 West Chester Pike; and at 3545 West Chester Pike.
“We believe that over the last two years of hearings that we have demonstrated that Haverford's ordinance that excludes billboards is constitutionally defective,” Bartkowski stated.
However, Jim Byrne, the representative for Newtown and Haverford, and Lower Merion Township Solicitor Bill Kerr have both maintained in previous hearings that the state constitution is in favor of the ordinance and have also used in their arguments that billboards can cause a distraction and have been known to fall down.
But BIG's argument is that anything can cause a driver to be distracted while driving his or her vehicle and that just because a billboard falls down does not mean that all of them do.
In addition, many residents have taken issue with the billboard proposals. Sandi Donato, of the No Billboards coalition, to the Haverford Zoning Hearing Board during closing arguments that it uses its “… logic and common sense to guide you in the conclusions that these billboards are a public safety hazard, are inappropriate for the sites proposed and should be excluded altogether ...”
The in several Delaware and Montgomery towns.
With so much passion on both sides of the issue, townships' zoning hearing boards have to weigh its decisions based off of the testimony of experts that have been presented by BIG, the township's ordinance, the commonwealth’s constitution and even the rulings of the Pennsylvania’s State Supreme Court, among other things.
And Bartkowski feels that these things will be in his favor when Haverford's Zoning Hearing voices its decision on Thursday night. The hearing with BIG in Newtown has been canceled for Thursday night and rescheduled to March 15 at 7 p.m. in the .
“We would like to think that the Haverford Zoning Hearing Board would render a decision that is consistent with over 80 years PA Supreme Court precedent and find that the ordinance is unenforceable,” he stated about Thursday's decision.
However, if the board does not rule in BIG’s favor, Bartkowski stated that he has an alternative plan.
“In the event the zoning hearing board comes to a different conclusion, we will pursue our remedies on appeal,” he stated.
Bartkowski even commented on the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas ruling that denied a request to keep in Bryn Mawr.
Lower Merion Township recently issued billboard company AdSmart Outdoor Advertising, Inc., a zoning violation in 2010, which the group appealed in November of that year. AdSmart shares the same owners as BIG.
"The wallscape in Lower Merion has been in existent for almost 100 years with a validly issued permit dating back to 1926 and we believe ultimately that the court will recognize this reality," Bartkowski stated, mentioning that there are plans to appeal the decision.
He did not comment about any possible proposed billboard applications being filed for the region.
Danielle Vickery and Jennifer Kim contributed to this report.