Electronic Billboard Bill Advances

Richard Furlow PhotoHartford—New Haven State Rep. Pat Dillon said she received some criticism from colleagues when she introduced a bill that would reinforce cities’ authority to regulate the brightness of digital billboards. Weren’t there more important things for her to draft legislation about?

Then a new sign at Whalley Avenue and Emerson Street was powered on.

“Now, they understand and are telling me how horrible it is,” she said Monday after a meeting of the state General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee. Her bill made it out of committee with an overwhelming 37 to 2 vote.

The continually changing electronic sign, which is near the intersection of Whalley Avenue and Emerson Street, has especially upset parents of nearby Chapel Haven residents. They say they fear that the sign will not only distract drivers but make crossing the intersection difficult for adults with disabilities. City officials said they are powerless under state law to stop such signs from going up. Dillon then moved to change that law to give them the power. (Even if Dillon’s law passes, it would not retroactively affect the new sign on Whalley.)

One of the bill’s two no votes Monday came from State Rep. Doug Dubitsky, a Republican who represents the towns of Canterbury, Chaplin, Franklin, Hampton, Lebanon, Lisbon, Norwich, Scotland, and Sprague. The other came from Republican State Rep. Ben McGorty, who represents Shelton, Stratford, Trumbull.

Dubitsky said he couldn’t support the bill because he believes it was a matter for the legislature’s Planning and Development Committee, not Judiciary. Dillon didn’t disagree. She said that the version of the bill that the committee was voting on was different from the initial bill that she introduced. The original bill would have given cities and towns like New Haven the power to penalize offenders. Now it ensures they have the power to regulate the signs, including their height, brightness and location.

Paul Bass PhotoDubitsky still was unmoved. He asked that the bill be sent to the planning committee. However, that committee has already passed its deadline for hearing and considering bills this short session. The majority of the 23 joint committees have hit their deadlines for considering bills. The Judiciary, Appropriations, and the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding committees will be among the last to wrap up their business on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, respectively.

“I can’t support this bill because I don’t believe we are the committee of cognizance,” Dubitsky said of the billboard bill Monday. “We know nothing of zoning.”

Markeshia Ricks PhotoAfter the successful vote, Dillon said she had met with her committee colleagues on both sides of the aisle beforehand so that people would understand the bill’s goal. She noted that the zoning regulations of many towns and cities in the state had not contemplated such signs and likely need new language that reflects how technology has changed advertising. The outdoor advertising proponents oppose the legislation.

Dillon brought the bill when Westville alders and outraged neighbors asked her to draft legislation after the owner of the BD Food Market and Deli at 1057 Whalley Ave. had erected the double-sided, 230-square-foot sign seemingly overnight.

Westville Alder Richard Furlow said neighbors have been further outraged now that “the sign is on full blast at night.” He said he plans to introduce local legislation comparable to Dillon’s that would limit the hours of operation and brightness of the sign. (Read more on that from the New Haven Register’s Mary O’Leary here.)

The 2018 Agenda

Bill #StatusSummarySponsors
HB 5001In CommitteeTo impose a fee on transactions involving virtual currency.Pat Dillon
HB 5031In Committee
Committee Approved
To allow students to have equal access to institutional financial aid.Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee
HB 5082In Committee
Committee Approved
To provide state funds to assist hurricane victims from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands who are living in Connecticut.Juan Candelaria
HB 5126In CommitteeTo increase funding to boards of education and family resource centers that provide assistance to students and families from Puerto Rico.Juan Candelaria
HB 5112In CommitteeTo permit the retail sale of marijuana and tax such sale to raise revenue for the General Fund and to fund substance abuse treatment, prevention, education and awareness programs.Juan R. Candelaria, Angel Arce, Josh Elliott, Steven J. Stafstrom, Jeff Currey, Susan M. Johnson, Chris Soto, Patricia A. Dillon, Roland J. Lemar, James M. Albis, Christopher Rosario, Kim Rose, Robyn A. Porter, Edwin Vargas, Matthew Lesser, Gregory Haddad, Joshua Malik Hall, Ezequiel Santiago, Diana S. Urban, Toni E. Walker, Robert Sanchez, Alphonse Paolillo
SB 1In CommitteeTo expand the sick leave program to provide earned family and medical leave to certain individuals employed in this state.Martin M. Looney, Bob Duff, Timothy D. Larson, Steve Cassano, Beth Bye, Terry B. Gerratana, Gary A. Winfield, Ted Kennedy, Catherine A. Osten, Marilyn V. Moore, Edwin A. Gomes, Mae Flexer
SB 62In CommitteeTo provide tuition-free community college for Connecticut residents.Martin M. Looney
HB 5182In Committee
Committee Approved
To require building officials in certain municipalities to establish and assess a fee for the commencement of certain work without a necessary permit.Planning and Development Committee
HB 5210In Committee
Committee Approved
To (1) mandate insurance coverage of essential health benefits, (2) expand mandated health benefits for women, children and adolescents, and (3) expand mandated contraception benefits.Insurance and Real Estate Committee
HB 5084In CommitteeTo encourage the recycling of nip bottles that otherwise frequently litter urban areas.Roland J. Lemar and Juan R. Candelaria
HB 5350In Committee
Committee Denied
To create a pilot program for shared solar facilities at municipal airports. The bill also would delete the provision that dictates the length of Tweed Airport’s runway.Energy and Technology Committee
HB 5475In Committee
Committee Approved
To amend statutory provisions concerning a police officer’s viewing of a recording from body-worn recording equipment under certain circumstances.Judiciary Committee
HB 5515 In Committee
Committee Approved
To permit a zoning commission to regulate the brightness and illumination of advertising signs and billboards.Judiciary Committee
HB 5540In Committee
Committee Approved
To ban guns without serial numbers and regulate those which are sold in a form requiring the purchaser to finish assembly or that are homemade and to permit local authorities to interview immediate family members as part of a determination of an applicant's suitability.Judiciary Committee
HB 5542In Committee
Committee Approved
To ban the sale or transfer, possession, manufacturing or use of bump stocks or other accessories to increase the rate of fire of a firearm.Judiciary Committee

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posted by: elmcityboy on April 3, 2018  10:11am

westville neighbor here! i live about two blocks from the sign. i honestly think they have the timer on this stupid sign messed up - it’s actually duller in the daytime and obnoxiously bright at night.

is the the convenience store connected to the sign in any way? if so, it dramatically changes my perception of the folks who run the place.

posted by: robn on April 3, 2018  10:30am

New Haven is not, nor do we want it to be, a scene out of Blade Runner. There should be a moratorium on any future lit signs. Especially since most of the civilized world is going in a a direction of respecting dark skies.

posted by: Noteworthy on April 3, 2018  10:31am

This is a bastardization of the process - if the committee has no expertise on matters of zoning, why bring it there? Just because you can jam it through? That makes no sense. The concerns by parents are borderline ridiculous. There is a stop light and a crossing button. All you have to do is wait for the light, wait for the crossing message - and cross. This billboard doesn’t affect safety at all and those that think it does are being unreasonable and alarmist.

Dillon’s move through this committee is akin to Lemar’s move on Tweed and solar - make it about solar and add a line overturning the state law everyone agreed to so he can be a hero to the well heeled and well connected.

posted by: HewNaven on April 3, 2018  11:53am

Viva, Las Vegas!

posted by: anonymous on April 3, 2018  12:30pm

Clearly, any future construction like this should be better-regulated.  Hope the new laws and zoning are implemented quickly before we see more of these.

As for this one, a reasonable discussion between neighbors and the owner might help. Neighbors could explain their concerns, survey neighbors to share their experiences living next to a sign like this, offer ways to help the owner recoup some of his/her investment into the sign when it’s removed or shut down in the evenings, organize a visible boycott of the store and anyone who advertises on the sign until the owner agrees to show more respect for his/her immediate neighbors, or lobby the city to remove it and provide fair compensation to its owners if it was erected legally.

posted by: BenBerkowitz on April 3, 2018  3:10pm

Thanks for covering. This thing is insane when you see it IRL.

posted by: robn on April 3, 2018  3:24pm

I have a feeling that the owner will soon get tired of maintain this expensive behemoth after the kids start throwing rocks at it (which they will).

posted by: ADAK on April 3, 2018  7:07pm

I don’t understand how this got through… I understand it’s legal, but it’s only *after* it was erected that the Alders (and anyone) started showing concern for it. Someone let things slip by through the approval process ... or they just didn’t care. Which is probably more correct.

New Haven has to get with the times, electronic billboards have existed for 15+ years. A law should have been enacted by now.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on April 3, 2018  11:28pm

Noteworthy, the Judiciary Committee has historically taken a very broad view of its cognizance. That doesn’t mean its actions are right, but they certainly are precedented. The bill will likely be referred to the Planning and Development Committee.

As the article notes, the bill is not retroactive; the sign is likely to be around for a while.

posted by: TWO-THIRDS on April 4, 2018  6:38pm

I drive by this sign late at night, and it is a safety hazard. I blinds me with the light and brightness, preventing me from seeing pedestrians/activity on the street.  I realize there was some kind of oversight in failing to regulate this, but if it is an actual safety hazard can’t we do something to regulate this?

posted by: JeffJustJeff on April 9, 2018  7:19pm

It’s utterly ridiculous to have an electronic billboard on such a busy street, how did this happen ? who allowed this to happen ? I dom’t think any will magically appear in Woodbridge, Bethany or Orange anytime soon ! Whalley Avenue is not the Boston Post Rd.