By John Lynds
The Orient Heights Neighborhood Council vote of 38 to 28 in favor of placing a 40 ft. digital billboard on McClellan Highway may not reflect the actual will of the people according to OHNC President Joseph Ruggiero.
At the end of Monday’s OHNC meeting, Ruggiero explained to members that many abutters allowed to vote on another development project on Horace Street may have mistakenly voted on the billboard issue even though they were not eligible to vote. OHNC allows residents who have attended two of the last three meetings to submit a secret ballot. Abutters to a project are also allowed to vote.
However, both the billboard and Horace Street development were placed on the same ballot and Ruggiero said he thinks the high vote for the billboard may have been a result of abutters to the other project voting.
Throughout the meeting, numerous OHNC members expressed their opposition to Logan Communication’s plans to erect the billboard on the Hilton Garden Inn’s property along McClellan Highway. It seemed from the start of the meeting the billboard proposal was destined to loose during voting.
At the meeting representatives from Logan Communication argued that the billboard would result in several community benefits. One community benefit touted at Monday’s meeting was Logan Communication’s agreement with the priests that oversee the Madonna Shrine to conduct regular landscaping to clean up the Madonna Shrine Hill along McClellan Highway.
John Pelrine of Logan Communications said the company would also be required under state law to give 15 hours per month for to local organizations and non-profits as well as public service messages like Amber Alerts.
However, members of the Impact Advisory Group (IAG) that oversaw the permitting and construction of the Hilton Garden Inn again reminded OHNC members of Hilton’s agreement with the community to not place any ‘large signange’ or ‘billboard’ whether it was the Hilton brand or not on the property.
Mary Berninger, who was appointed by then Boston Mayor Thomas Menino to the Hilton IAG, said it was important to come to Monday night’s meeting and stress the IAG’s position in the past and the agreement made with the Hilton years ago.
“Groups like ours are charged with vetting these issues and the IAG appointed by Mayor Menino said ‘No High Signage’ of any kind on the property,” said Berninger. “We talked specifically about billboards and came to an agreement that they would not be allowed on this property. Now, after people took times out of their personal lives to sit on the IAG the Hilton wants to just throw all the work out the window. That sets a very dangerous precedence.”
Berninger was backed up by then Mayoral Liaison, Ernani DeAraujo. DeAraujo, who sat in on the IAG meetings said the topic of large signage on the property was discussed and the group came to a consensus with the Hilton that there would be no ‘large’ signage of any kind on the property.
Longtime community activist Gail Miller went so far as to recommend that the OHNC not take a vote because it would suggest that the IAG’s agreement was not binding.
“Why even have an IAG and these meetings and these agreements with developers if they are going to change everything once they build,” she said.
Another resident said that there are already over 15 billboards from the mouth of the Sumner Callahan Tunnels to Boardman Street, several owned by Logan Communication, so he can’t see why there needs to yet another.
“It causes blight and we all want to live a reasonable life, deal with reasonable issues in a reasonable neighborhood but these billboards, especially the digital ones, make it an uglier place to live,” the gentleman said.