MANSFIELD — A controversial proposal to allow digital billboards in town lost on town meeting floor Tuesday night, even though those in favor outnumbered those opposed — but only by a mere one vote.
The standing vote for the request for a zoning bylaw change for the billboards was 121-120 in favor, but since a two-thirds majority was required the proposal failed.
The meeting at the high school was delayed for about half an hour to reach the 200-voter quorum. Eventually, 289 residents, or 1.7 percent of the town’s 17,418 registered voters, showed up.
A citizen’s petition sought authorization to install a digital billboard off Interstate 495.
Harbor Outdoor of Braintree wanted to lease space from Miller Recycling on Plymouth Street in the industrial park to build the 14-foot-by-48-foot billboard.
The petition looked to amend the town’s bylaws to allow such signs in the planned business district on property abutting I-495 or I-95.
Attorney Nicholas Riccio, a former town building official who was representing the applicant, said one and at most two billboards could be built under the zoning change.
He stressed the request for one billboard would still have to go before the planning board for a special permit that board members usually require stringent conditions for, and state approval would also have to be obtained.
Riccio and Drew Hoffman of Harbor Outdoor contended no homes would be able to see the sign, and Riccio said the nearest home was 2,200 feet away. They also cited state and federal studies that they said showed the signs are not a distraction to drivers.
Many residents who spoke Tuesday night questioned those studies and were concerned with aesthetics.
“I think it’s a bad idea,” Deborah Snyder said. “Billboards are tacky, ugly.”
A South Main Street resident said he moved to Mansfield from California, where he said there were billboards everywhere. “I’d hate to see that happen to this area,” he said.
“The billboard would be an eyesore on the edge of town,” another said.
“If it’s not distracting drivers, it’s not doing its job,” Kristen Davis said.
Riccio pointed out there are numerous signs in the industrial park and the mural painted along Route 106 downtown hasn’t proven to be a distraction as feared.
Harbor Outdoor proposed making annual donations to the town of $25,000 for 20 years, for a total of $500,000, with the first five years — $125,000 — — paid upfront.
Several residents weren’t swayed by the monetary offer, and some countered it was not enough.
Discount ads were being offered to local businesses, and public services announcements such as Amber Alerts and other public safety, traffic, weather and town messages could have been posted at no charge.
Riccio mentioned local business ads would generate more tax revenue for the town, though some residents wondered if small businesses would be able to take advantage.
Ryan Miller of Miller Recycling said his family’s business has been in Mansfield for 13 years and the billboard would help his business and the town.
A majority of members of the industrial development commission, finance committee, planning board and select board backed the request.
“This billboard will provide multiple benefits,” IDC Chairman Robert Krentzman said, maintaining ads would attract customers to local restaurants and hotels..
Finance committee Chairman Walter Wilk noted additional property taxes from the sign could be put to good use.
"It's an opportunity for the community to raise some much needed funds," said state Rep. Jay Barrows, R-Mansfield, who runs a local insurance agency and highlighted the advantages of advertising for businesses and the town.
A similar request was shot down at town meeting two years ago for many of the same reasons.