Digital-billboard plans stir resident back-flash

Neighbors have banded together to stop the digital conversion of this Center City billboard.
Neighbors have banded together to stop the digital conversion of this Center City billboard. (SCENIC PHILADELPHIA)
Posted: September 13, 2012

PETER Kendzierski and his girlfriend, both painters, moved to Philadelphia just for the studio and living space they found here.

They searched up and down the East Coast, Kendzierski said Tuesday.

"As painters, we need good ceilings and natural light," said Kendzierski, who moved here from Baltimore in 2009.

They settled on a converted factory on 11th Street near Vine and "fell in love" with a fourth-floor apartment with eight massive windows.

In addition, he said, their landlord, neighborhood activist John Struble, himself an artist, was willing to build a third-floor studio just for them.

But Kendzierski's love affair has hit a rocky patch, as he and others from that section of Center City are irked about a billboard company's plans to convert an old-fashioned standard billboard into a flashing digital one - right outside Kendzierski's windows.

Residents and community and church leaders are expected to testify at the Zoning Board of Adjustment on Wednesday to stop the digital sign.

"To have these very harsh and jarring lights changing - even if you see it from the corner of your eye - would be distracting to the point that it would render our studio unusable," Kendzierski said.

"We called these billboards a TV on a stick," said Mary Tracy, president of Scenic Philadelphia, an anti-billboard organization.

Tracy said the city gave Steen Outdoor Advertising "over-the-counter" permits to change a standard billboard into a digital billboard without public notice.

Efforts to reach someone from Steen Outdoor Advertising were not successful Tuesday night.

City Councilman Mark Squilla said he agreed with the residents' plans to fight the sign.

Although city laws allow billboard companies to "change the face" of a sign without special notice to neighbors, Squilla said: "To me, changing the face from static to digital isn't just changing the face. It's affecting the quality of life."

Sarah McEneaney, president of the Callowhill Neighborhood Association, said the association and the preservationist Reading Viaduct Project "are both totally opposed to the digital conversion of the billboard."

Kendzierski said the digital billboard could prompt him to move.

"We like Philly a lot; it's a great city," he said. "If things change, then we have to seek a studio elsewhere."

Contact Valerie Russ at or 215-854-5987. Follow her on Twitter @ValerieRussDN.

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