November 10, 2013 03:18PM
By Jeff Gebeau
MERIDEN — After more than a year of shepherding the city’s plan for a digital billboard through numerous meetings and hearings conducted by various committees, Attorney John B. Kennelly believed he was done with the process. Kennelly obtained all required committee approvals from the city on behalf of his client Lamar Advertising, which intends to build the billboard, and secured final City Council approval for the project in September.
However, upon submitting the approved city permit for the billboard to the Connecticut Department of Transportation for its approval, Kennelly was notified that the state wants zoning in the area that is designated for the billboard to be changed from residential to light industrial.
On Wednesday, Kennelly had to appear again before the planning committee and the economic development, zoning, and housing committee to request approval for the rezoning, prior to obtaining final approval for the change from the City Council.
Both committees unanimously approved the zoning change.
Kennelly said the state is asking for rezoning in the area even though the sign is to be located within the newly created billboard overlay district, which the planning committee approved in July.
The state objects to the fact that the area is zoned residential but also contains an overlay district, he said.
Kennelly told committee members that the only area that needs to be rezoned is the same area that was established as the overlay district.
He also apologized to members of both committees for “taking up their time” with something that was presumed to be settled. “The state ignored Meriden’s desire” to get the project underway by imposing extra conditions, he said.
Kennelly called the mandated extra procedural step “a belt and suspenders thing,” saying that Lamar was being forced to return to Meriden to obtain new approvals for a project the city has already sanctioned. He said he hopes the state’s additional stipulation is “the final hurdle” before ground can be broken on the project.
“The state is making us jump through another hoop,” he said.
However, he clarified that the Department of Transportation has not formally denied approval to the plan. “We’re working with the state,” to satisfy its concerns, he explained.
Kennelly said the delay in the billboard’s construction is costing money to both Lamar and the city, which will collect lease payments on the property and will reap economic development benefits via the billboard’s advertising of local businesses, which will attract more people to the city. Meriden will also be allotted 2,000 hours per year of billboard use for its own advertising purposes.
Kennelly spelled out the consequence if the city did not consent to the rezoning plan. The billboard can not be built without the zoning modification, he said.
City Planner Dominick Caruso explained why he recommended approval of the proposal at the planning commission meeting. He said the area is contiguous to another light industrial zone— one that also has a billboard, albeit one of the traditional variety.
At the economic development, zoning, and housing committee meeting, Council Majority Leader Brian Daniels said the zoning change was simply a case of “tying up a loose end” in the approval process for a project that the city has already endorsed.
Having secured recommendations for the altered zoning from both committees, Kennelly will now appear before the City Council again at its Nov. 18 meeting to seek final consent for the change.
Once the rezoning becomes official, he hopes the state will give prompt approval to the plan so that work on the billboard can finally begin.