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12/21/2006

Board advises not to allow billboards

By Cara Latham
Staff Writer

Controversial debate about billboards still ongoing

MANSFIELD - The Planning Board on Monday unanimously voted against recommending that the Township Committee approve a proposed ordinance that could allow billboards on Interstate 295 in Hedding.

But the ordinance is expected to receive its second reading on Dec. 27, when members of the public will be able to comment on it.

The issue has been controversial in the village of Hedding, where two 60-foot signs were proposed by Cherry Hill-based Interstate Outdoor Advertising. Residents who oppose the proposal say it would damage the historic village's beauty and property values. Proponents have pointed out that the signs could be a tax benefit to the township.

Two billboards also have been proposed along the N.J. Turnpike's Pennsylvania Extension.

Township Administrator Joe Broski said the ordinance would increase the height limit over what is currently allowed. Two of the billboards proposed to be along I-295 would be 60 feet high, while two others in a different zoning area in the township would be 90 feet, he said.

Other municipalities receive about $3,500 per billboard a year. This means that the tax benefit for Mansfield would total about $14,000 if four billboards are placed within township borders, he said.

Some residents who opposed the ordinance have formed an informal group.

Hedding resident Claudia Teal, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Mansfield group, who attended Monday's meeting, said that even though the Planning Board recommended that the Township Committee not approve the ordinance, the battle isn't over.

"This is a first-round win, but round two will come up next Wednesday, when the Township Committee is going to supposedly listen to us again," she said. "We have to go back and make our case again."

The group hired land-use attorney Stuart Lieberman, of Princeton, to represent it, she said, adding that the Planning Board meeting was very cordial in that residents opposing the ordinance presented their case civilly, and that Planning Board Chairman Fred Clark commended both Planning Board members and residents on their behavior.

However, knowing that the Township Committee is not obligated to follow the Planning Board's recommendation is "disheartening," said Ms. Teal.

"We see the nonsense of these billboards, but a lot of people are not seeing the whole viewpoint and what these things are going to look like," she said.

Committeewoman Terri Tallon Hammill said the Planning Board's recommendation has not influenced how she may vote on Dec. 27 because she was against the ordinance from the beginning.

"I was not in favor of the change at all to begin with," she said. "I just don't think that any of this is in compliance with our Master Plan, and I don't think it's something that we want to see in Mansfield."

Committeeman Jaime Devereaux said the Planning Board's recommendation will have a large part in his decision, but that "I just have to listen to what the residents have to say, and talk to the committee."

Committeeman Kenneth Denti echoed that sentiment.

"Obviously we value the opinion of the Planning Board," he said. "I'm certainly going to take their recommendation into consideration in making a final decision here, as well as the opinions expressed by the residents so far."

Copyright 2006 Register News