Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Billboards Fall!

And the citizens said, "Director Argo, take down these billboards!"  And, this morning, residents ran out onto the streets to watch them fall, all four of them, at New Jersey Avenue and P Streets NW (and shared their observations via e-mail).

Neighborhood activists and ordinary citizens, working with the District's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, should be proud.  The process demonstrates DCRA's commitment to address quality of life issues in our neighborhoods, even when they might seem relatively small to some.

A bit of background.  Residents of the Shaw neighborhood, including the Bates Area Civic Association pleaded with DCRA to seek removal of what appeared to be illegal billboards at NJ and P.  Not only were they unsightly, but the large vacant lot lent itself to dumping, littering, drug dealing, and other crime.  The billboards contributed to blight and lowered property values in the neighborhood.  Residents longed to see housing, a park, anything at the prominent corner location.  Even a dedicated website emerged.

While DC law has long banned billboards, some were allowed over the years.  Additional regulations made clear that billboards were not permitted near residential buildings.  Records dating prior to Home Rule, however, were misplaced.  City regulations changed repeatedly and their retroactive application to previously permitted billboards was apparently arguable. 

Nevertheless, these billboards and many others across the city, remained in plain site.  Many provided a source of income for derelict owners of vacant lots, parking lots, used car dealerships, and liquor stores.

The Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association chimed in and urged DCRA to remove billboards at several locations in its neighborhood and review the issue citywide.  To its credit, DCRA promptly announced that it would begin enforcement of the billboard law.  Given missing records and conflicting regulations, enforcement posed a challenge.  DCRA commited itself to fixing the situation and, eventually, at least three sets of billboards came down over the past several months.

The billboards at New Jersey and P Streets NW, however, led to a fight.  They are owned by Clear Channel, which had a permit dating back several decades and they sought and obtained an court injunction prohibiting their removal.  In the midst of the legal strangling, the situation took an odd turn when another District agency, the Department of Health, placed a public service ad on one of the billboards.  To avoid an expensive legal fight, last week, DCRA promulgated emergency regulations to address the issue.  That seemed to get Clear Channel's attention. 

According to DCRA Director Linda Argo:
The District has reached a settlement agreement with Clear Channel regarding their four billboards at 4th and P Street, NW and additional billboard at 3rd and K Street, NE.
The agreement calls for Clear Channel to begin removing the billboards today, Tuesday, December 15, and to completely remove the billboards no later than Monday, December 21. Clear Channel will then remove any supporting posts for the billboards by December 31.

I’m thrilled we’ve reached this amicable settlement with Clear Channel and want to express my gratitude for the community’s invaluable assistance in these efforts.
Just fifteen minutes after receiving Director Argo's e-mail, Richard Dane Norwood, Ward 5 Coordinator for the Mayor's Office of Community Relations and Services reported that removal was underway.

Congratulations to the community for its hard work and to DCRA (as well as the Attorney General's Office) for following through on their commitment and delivering an early holiday gift to the neighborhood.  Let's hope to see the lot put toward a beneficial and productive use in 2010!

UPDATE: More photos and commentary from the Prince of Petworth as well as video from the Bates Area Civic Association. Also Washington Business Journal, Examiner (via BACA blog), and DC Wire coverage.

Gone, but not forgotten, in 2009 (from top to bottom): 7th and L Streets, NJ Avenue & P Street, and the 300 Block of New York Avenue NW.


Cary Silverman said...

Prince of Petworth includes the Mayor's press release:

“Today Mayor Adrian M. Fenty announced that the District reached a settlement agreement with Clear Channel regarding the removal of four billboards located at:

· 4th Street NW
· P Street, NW
· 3rd Street NE
· K Street, NE.

“These billboards have been a source of frustration for the residents of the Mount Vernon neighborhood for years,” Fenty said in a statement. “We are excited to see them come down today and that an agreement could be reached so quickly without unnecessary time, expense or further litigation.”

For decades, residents in wards 2 and 5 have described the billboards as neighborhood detractions, even referring to them as outright blight. Today, the Mayor was elated to notify residents and community leaders alike of the removal of the billboards.

Clear Channel began removing the billboards this morning and will complete removal no later than Dec. 21. In addition, Clear Channel will take down all supporting posts for the billboards by Dec. 31.

“I’m thrilled we’ve reached this amicable settlement with Clear Channel,” said Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Director Linda Argo. “I would also like to express my gratitude for the community’s invaluable assistance in these efforts.””

CCCA Prez said...

Congratulations to the neighborhood activists who took the time to invest in collective efforts on behalf of the whole community. And thanks to Director Argo and her team for making this happen.

Never give up the fight.