NORTH HAVEN — A Wallingford business is looking to amend zoning rules in North Haven to allow for more billboards along Interstate 91.
Dominick DeMartino, owner of DeMartino Outdoor Media, has asked the Planning and Zoning Commission to approve three digital billboards and to designate areas where he, or other companies, could seek more in the future.
“In my opinion, it will not affect any residents of North Haven unless they’re driving on I-91,” he told the PZC during a Sept. 11 public hearing.
A group of business owners came out to voice their support, saying the billboards would allow them to advertise to drivers along the interstate.
Some residents voiced opposition, though, raising concerns about lighting and the potential for distracted driving.
“Billboards are some of the ugliest things on the road,” resident Joe DiMartino said. “I’ve seen them every 500 feet in the middle of the country — they assault your senses.”
The PZC continued the public hearing until its Oct. 2 meeting, giving Dominick DeMartino time to respond to some of the questions and concerns raised.
DeMartino is seeking the approval of three overlay districts, meaning the PZC essentially allows for additional uses in certain parts of already zoned areas.
The three proposed areas are all along I-91. His lawyer, Dennis Ceneviva, said the proposal would require 750-feet of circumference around the billboards.
He said that’s a big difference from state law, which only requires 500 feet of space between signs on the same side of the road and makes no distinction for those on the opposite side.
Ceneviva also said the PZC could require a special permit for additional billboards from DeMartino or another company.
The PZC had fielded other requests for billboard approvals in the past, but those either failed or were withdrawn.
Ceneviva argued DeMartino’s was different because the larger spacing requirement and a request for fewer overlay areas would result in fewer billboards than past proposals.
He also said the advertising landscape had changed, with print media offering less advertising space.
“Business and the business community has changed post COVID,” he said.
Some business owners agreed, and Ceneviva provided the PZC with petitions of support signed by 144 residents and 79 businesses.
“We’d like to get people off the exits to discover North Haven and all the things we offer,” said Ray Andrewsen, executive director of the Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce.
But a group of residents said the billboards would be unattractive, distract drivers on I-91 and create a nuisance from lighting.
“I can just imagine seeing a billboard constantly changing, constantly flickering being that close to the highway,” Mike Bray said.
DeMartino tried to address lighting concerns by saying the signs have a monitor that dims the lighting by roughly half at night because the signs have to compete with less ambient light.
The signs are also digital, so they’re backlit and don’t require spotlights.
Some longtime members of the PZC told DeMartino he’d have to address residents’ concerns and show the commission why his proposal is different from those in the past.
“Your saying the time has changed and the time is now, but I’m not sure I see the big difference from this and what there was before,” member James Guiletti said.
Some members said they also shared concerns raised by residents, particularly the issues of lighting and traffic safety.