Ridley Park's Online Digital Community
With an overflow crowd of twenty five residents standing in the hallway, there wasn't a seat unfilled in Ridley Park's Council Chambers last night while Council President Bob Berger told residents how a billboard was allowed to become part of the natural landscape in Hetzel Park.
To open the show Berger went to a PowerPoint presentation to explain the chronological progression of the Borough's billboard troubles. In the beginning, it was the Borough's very own zoning code prohibiting billboards of any kind that spared the initial lawsuit some ten years ago.
It seems that prohibiting billboards altogether, rather then regulating their placement, is a prohibition of commercial free speech. Because our old zoning laws prohibited commercial free speech, the Borough found itself facing a Federal lawsuit threatening the constitutionality of the Borough's old zoning code. If the Zoning Code was determined by the court to be unconstitutional, Ridley Park would be defenseless, said Borough's Solicitor, Ernest Angelos. This could have been a green light to other billboard companies to "pile-on" their billboard advertising in a community that would be unable to regulate or prohibit billboards.
To mediate the suit, the Borough entered negotiations with the advertising company behind closed doors. For more than eight years Borough Council's have discussed this privately in "executive sessions" behind closed doors with four different solicitors. We're told that everyone on council knew about this; it was the residents who were left out in the dark.
Then in 2011, the Borough held two public Zoning Board meetings to change one portion of Hetzel Park into C-1, Commercial property. Berger is the Council liaison for the Zoning Board Council, said the zoning change was to allow for a billboard and that no one from the community attended the meetings. He further said that he had no explanation why members of the community around Hetzel Park did not receive letters about the meeting. Burger then went on to say that the Zoning Board's meeting advertisement in the Delaware County Daily Times did mention the building of a billboard.
To subdue the crowd and attempt a little bit of kumbaya, the next portion of the meeting went to closer quarters as four members of Council and the Mayor moved their seats to a small table in contact with the front row of the audience. Meanwhile, Council Members Brennen, Murtha and Borough Manager Human remained perched in their seats on the rostrum.
Until after 10 PM last night residents came to the podium one by one to ask their questions while others shouted to be heard from the floor. Some residents objected to the height and size of the sign, others called it a health danger, and all wanted to know how an electrified billboard could be erected to their community without any forewarning. "We're on the wrong side of Chester Pike" shouted one resident. At one point in the meeting, another resident shouting from the audience had every Council Member agree that no one from Borough Council had visited the site before the construction, but that all had voted in favor of the billboard.
"The reason to choose Hetzel Park over Catania Park for the billboard was greed," said Council Member Jared Brennen. ..."because the Borough didn't want to split it (sign revenue) 50/50 with the county..." Council Member Brennen went on further to explain that the current members of Borough Council voted 7/0 in favor of the billboard because Council Member's rely on the each Council liaison and the work of their committee to guide their judgements. In this instance, Brennan said the sign is much bigger and taller then he expected. Countering that, Council Member Jim Glenn said the sign is exactly what he expected. Council Member Samantha Snow spoke out that tall tree might help cover the sign some.
Council Member Murtha made a motion to hire an independent solicitor to block the billboard in Hetzel Park. The motion passed 7/0 in favor. In the meantime it was agreed that the Borough Solicitor would attempt an injunction prohibiting PECO from energizing the sign. According to the letter delivered to Hetzel Park residents, PECO plans a four hour power shut down on Sept 24 to energize the sign.
We shall see and we shall hope for the best. I welcome your comments, corrections, and clarifications.