Bid To Erect Blue Route Billboards Drags On Officials Are Concerned About Having The Oversize Signs Towering Over The State-designated Scenic Highway.

Posted: November 25, 1993

PLYMOUTH — Terry L. Steen is finding out that it's very hard to get your message across on the Blue Route.

Especially if you're trying to say it with signs - billboards, to be more exact.

Since September of 1992, Steen - president and owner of H.A. Steen Industries Inc. of Philadelphia and its Outdoor Advertising division - has been asking the Plymouth Zoning Hearing Board for variances permitting his firm to build four signs in the township. It looks as if his quest will drag into 1994 as well.

Hearings No. 5 and 6 before the board, held on consecutive evenings last week, concluded with everyone agreeing to call it a night and return Jan. 24 and 26.

Steen proposes to build two two-sided billboards along Colwell Lane, which parallels the Blue Route. Both signs would be 20- by 60-foot "spectaculars," the largest standard size for an advertising billboard.

Those billboards will be used for national advertising by clients such as McDonald's or Kool cigarettes; charitable advertising such as public service messages, or non-commercial or political advertising.

According to Charles F. Floyd, a professor of real estate at the University of Georgia hired as an expert witness by the township, billboards of that size earn an average $30,000 to $40,000 per year. However, property around such billboards tends to decrease in value, Floyd testified.

"You have to say, 'Is it really desirable to have this thing towering over?' " he said.

Both Colwell Lane billboards would be visible from the Blue Route, a state- designated scenic highway.

"Obviously, putting the largest-size billboard the industry uses on an area designated a scenic highway is absurd," Floyd said. "It's totally inappropriate. . . . You don't need a 1,200-square-foot sign to be seen."

When asked how the locations were selected, Steen said, "We usually look at the height above the traveled portion of the highway itself. . . . We look for proper zoning, spacing and sites that can be seen from these roads without obstructions and potential obstructions.

"We were unable to find alternate sites," Steen said.

Steen also is asking for permission to build a third 20- by 60-foot billboard at 445 W. Germantown Pike, across from Plymouth Meeting Mall, and a 14- by 48-foot billboard at 413 W. Ridge Pike, next to a Burger King.

Herbert F. Rubenstein, the attorney representing the township, objected to all four proposed signs, saying that, as presented to the board, none of the four leases for the locations was valid. Some of them lacked signatures from all owners, he said, and others misidentified property owners.

Rubenstein also objected to the leases on the grounds that all were signed in May and June 1992. He asked for some kind of reaffirmation of the leases to determine whether they were still valid.

"As far as I'm concerned, these leases are all still binding and valid," said David H. Moskowitz, attorney for Steen Industries.

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