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December 28, 2006

Mansfield billboard ordinance withdrawn

By MELISSA HAYES
Burlington County Times

MANSFIELD — About 100 residents gave the Township Committee a standing ovation last night after it voted 3-1 to withdraw an ordinance that would have permitted billboards along Interstate 295.

“So many people care about where they live,” Committeeman Ken Denti said before voting. “You came out and you took a position. How wonderful it is that you cared enough to come out tonight.”

Committeemen Jamie Devereaux and Denti, and Committeewoman Terri Tallon-Hammill voted to withdraw the ordinance. Committeewoman Laverne Cholewa voted against withdrawing it. Mayor Arthur Puglia abstained, citing a business relationship with a landowner who could profit from billboards.

“I was honestly very much for this for the ratables that were going to come in,” Cholewa said before voting.

The township would have made about $3,000 per sign in taxes annually.
The ordinance would have allowed Interstate Outdoor Advertising of Cherry Hill to construct four billboards on private property. Two 60-foot-tall billboards would have been permitted on properties along Hedding Road facing Interstate 295, and two 90-foot-tall signs would be near the intersection of Interstate 295 with the New Jersey Turnpike Extension.

The Planning Board unanimously voted against the billboard ordinance Dec. 19. About 50 residents attended that meeting to oppose the ordinance.
Many of the residents who packed the meeting room in the Municipal Building last night wore aqua T-shirts to show their opposition to the ordinance.

A handful of others spoke in favor of the signs. They included former Committeeman Bruce Waite and resident Cynthia Dangler, both of whom would benefit from leasing their properties to the advertising company.

Since the introduction of the ordinance, residents have complained that bringing billboards to the township contradicts a master plan that aims to protect the rural landscape of the township and preserve scenic views.

Resident Cassandra Bartzak also raised concerns about billboard content. She said one of them would have been visible from her son's bedroom window.

“I don't think you have a right to change my quality of life and how I raise my family for a lousy $12,000,” she said.

Jeff Gerber, a spokesman for Interstate Outdoor Advertising, said complaints from residents were based on misconceptions. He said the billboards would not be visible from homes because they would be hidden by trees.

Bartzak contended photographs taken by the company proved the billboards would be visible from her home, particularly in winter when the trees are bare.

Stuart Lieberman, an attorney representing residents who opposed billboards, urged the committee to do the right thing.

“There's nothing that I could think that could have a more deteriorative effect on the life of my clients than the billboards would have,” he said.

E-Mail: MELISSA HAYES