Jan. 18, 2017 By Hannah Wulkan
Community Board 1 voted last night to support two zoning variances that would permit the owner of two existing billboards to use them for advertising purposes in a residential section of the neighborhood.
The billboards are owned by Outfront Media and the advertisements would go up at 69-25 and 49-23 Astoria Boulevard across from Saint Michael’s Cemetery. There have been billboards at these locations since the 1930s.
However, due to zoning changes in 1961, the advertising signs were no longer allowed in the residential areas. Following various legal processes, the use of the signs for advertising had to be discontinued in 2012 and 2013 respectively, and have been blacked out with no content since then.
The Community Board voted to support Outfront Media’s request for variances, allowing the use of the two billboards for advertising with certain stipulations.
The board’s vote is merely advisory, with the ultimate decision to be made by the Board of Standards and Appeals.
The two lots where the billboards are located are tiny in size and are oddly shaped.
In order for a variance to be granted, Outfront Media has to prove that it is subject to a hardship that was not self-imposed.
Outfront’s attorney argued that the lots are too small to develop, so the only practical use was to use the billboards for advertising.
The lot at 69-25 Astoria Boulevard is a small triangular site, measuring 790 square feet in total, with the width at the narrowest portion shrinking to 27 feet, making development infeasible, according to Outfront Media’s attorney.
The lot at 49-23 Astoria Boulevard totals 2,552 square feet, with the width on Hazen Street totaling 19 feet and on Astoria Boulevard North at 77 feet wide.
If the application were denied, the billboard structures would remain on the lot without any content, according to Outfront’s attorney.
In voting to support Outfront Media’s variance request, the Board placed several stipulations on its approval. First, the billboards must remain in print form and must not be digitized. The content on the boards must also be appropriate for the neighborhood, and could not have any adult content. One of the billboards must also be reduced in size so as not to protrude over the property boundaries.
The lighting for the signs must also be minimized, the Board said, and Outfront Media agreed to only illuminate the signs from underneath and to put protectors on the lights to minimize light pollution.
The board ultimately voted 32 in favor of supporting the variance request and eight against on the smaller 69-25 Astoria Boulevard lot, and 31 in favor and nine against for the larger 49-23 Astoria Boulevard site.
The variance requests will move on to the Board of Standards and Appeals in the near future for a final verdict.