Nutter may face veto fight on billboard despite highway funding threat

Posted: January 25, 2013

MAYOR NUTTER on Thursday will veto a City Council bill that would allow a huge digital billboard on the Electric Factory, but that doesn't mean the bill is dead despite a threat from the feds that the billboard could jeopardize the state's highway funding.

Councilman Mark Squilla, who sponsored a bill to allow for a wall-wrap ad on the music-venue building at 7th and Callowhill streets near the Vine Street Expressway, said there was a "strong possibility" that he would move to override the mayor's veto, but he wants to first give his colleagues time to mull it over.

Squilla said Nutter told him that he would veto the bill. Nutter said the bill violates federal and state laws because the digital ad would be within 600 feet of a highway and could consequently lead to a 10 percent reduction in federal funding. Squilla said he does not believe that's possible.

"I don't have any concerns moving it forward," he said. "There is the same opposition as there is with any sign."

Council approved the measure last month, with a nay vote from Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. Squilla would need 12 of Council's 17 votes to override a veto.

Under the proposal, a portion of the money generated from the billboard would go toward programs at three nearby schools as part of a community-benefits agreement.

The Society Hill Civic Association, the anti-blight organization Scenic Philadelphia and other groups oppose the bill. To demonstrate its opposition, Scenic Philadelphia on Wednesday sent reporters a 1999 letter from the Federal Highway Administration affirming its refusal to fund one highway project in North Carolina because the state had not maintained "effective control over outdoor advertising in the Elizabethtown area."

If this feels like déjà vu, it's because it is. Squilla's predecessor, Frank DiCicco, pushed through a measure to install a billboard on the same building in 2011, and Nutter vetoed the bill then. The building's owner, Myron Berman, also fought the city in court after he was cited for illegally putting up wall-wrap signs in 1999.


On Twitter: @Jan_Ransom

Blog: PhillyClout.com

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