NORTH HAVEN — A Wallingford business owner tried to convince the Planning and Zoning Commission in North Haven last week that his request to allow billboards is different from past proposals, and that he has addressed residents’ concerns.
Dominick DeMartino, owner of DeMartino Outdoor Media, also recruited a group of local business owners to urge the PZC to approve the zoning amendment, giving them another way to advertise. The PZC closed a public hearing on the proposal after another 90 minutes of discussion on Oct. 2, but members said they won’t vote until their Nov. 6 meeting.
Opponents said they’re still worried the billboards would be a nuisance, creating light pollution for neighbors and a safety hazard for drivers.
“How can you approve an amendment that you know will negatively impact neighbors in the future?” resident Mary White asked the PZC.
DeMartino is seeking the approval of three overlay districts for digital billboards, meaning the PZC essentially allows for additional uses in certain parts of already-zoned areas. In this case, the overlays would cover industrial zones.
The three proposed areas are all along I-91, with a limit that no two billboards could be within a 750-foot circumference of each other.
That differs 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.
If approved, anyone wanting to erect a billboard would still need to seek a special permit from the PZC.
The commission continued a public hearing from September, allowing DeMartino and his consultants to respond to concerns raised by both PZC members and residents. DeMartino hired Cheng Qian, chief product architect with Canadian-based Media Resources, who told the commission the digital signs should not disrupt residents.
Qian said, based on the proposed requirements, DeMartino’s signs would be too far away and angled in such a way that any light would be “in the realm of completely natural things,” such as the moon, when viewed from property owners in town.
It’s a point DeMartino’s made repeatedly over the two meetings.
“I can only tell you that my three (signs), nobody can see,” he said. Commission members said any zoning changes would allow other businesses to apply for billboards, too.
“That’s not the way it works. The overlay district is letting anybody come in and put them wherever they want,” member James Giuletti said.
DeMartino also had business owners make a plea for billboards, saying the structures add advertising options. They also said the billboards can broadcast Amber and silver alerts, fundraisers and other community announcements.
“His business has been a source of support for our neighbors and a source of support for local charities,” said Domenic Luizzi, owner of Alarms Security Systems.
Opponents, though, said the signs don’t fit in with the town’s character. Joe DeMartino said the billboards would be “aesthetically butt ugly” and would set a bad precedent for other zoning changes.
“We all know that zoning changes are some of the most dangerous things you can have,” he said.
Critics also repeated their concerns about safety, referencing studies that have said billboards — especially digital billboards — distract drivers.
DeMartino’s attorney Dennis Ceneviva presented the PZC with a Federal Highway Administration study from 2010 that determined billboards were no more distracting that other roadside objects.
Ceneviva also argued this proposal is different from three others submitted to the PZC in recent years. The commission rejected one of those, while the other two were withdrawn.
He said those proposals would have allowed for static billboards, which can produce more light pollution. He also said DeMartino’s proposal, including its requirements for more space in between billboards, is meant to reduce impact on neighbors.