Amidst a push to light up our city with digital advertising, one digital sign visible from the Schuylkill Expressway and the Spring Garden Bridge sits dark. Thanks to the Department of License & Inspections, Streets Department, and Law Department’s combined enforcement efforts, the billboard company’s attempt to circumvent the law was caught and sign went dark.
The Spring Garden sign is owned by Steen Outdoor Advertising and sits on Conrail/Norfolk Southern railroad property. (It is common of many non-conforming signs in Philadelphia to be located on railroad property) This particular sign does not comply with the Federal Highway Beautification Act due to its proximity to other signs. The sign also does not conform to the Philadelphia City code due to:
- Proximity to the Schuylkill River – City Code 14-905 (2)
- Proximity to the Schuylkill Expressway ramps – City Code 14-905 (10)
Philadelphia allowed the non-conforming Spring Garden bridge billboard to convert to digital based on a now changed memo from Law Department. However, no structural changes were allowed to be made to the billboard. When applying for the permit to change the sign from static to digital, Steen testified that no structural or electrical changes to the non-conforming billboard would be needed to convert the existing billboard to digital.
Contrary to the testimony, when the billboard changed from static to digital cement footings and additional poles were added to secure the sign. Even worse, the billboard company encroached on public property in making the sign changes. Steen added electrical conduits and a private meter to the new Spring Garden bridge, which is part of a recent $6.6 million PennDot rehabilitation project. Thus, the Spring Garden sign violated another city code 14-905 (14):
A prohibited sign shall not be reconstructed if for any reason it becomes necessary to replace the entire sign, including the sign face, the farm and any supporting mechanism.
Stories of circumvention, deception, and law breaking by the Philadelphia billboard industry are common. We are thankful to have city leaders are willing to enforce the law and hold billboard companies accountable for their actions.
Finally, we are thankful for the public who inform us of suspicious activity surrounding billboards. The darkening of the Spring Garden sign started with a complaint filed by Scenic Philadelphia in response to a Powelton Village neighbor’s report. With your help we can have more signs go dark and/or come down!