Po­ten­tial LED bill­boards at Na­tion­als Park have res­i­dents wor­ried.

Fear flash­ing signs will have neg­a­tive ef­fect on life qual­ity

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY RYAN M. MCDER­MOTT

Some res­i­dents of the South­west wa­ter­front fear the neigh­bor­hood could be pestered by flash­ing bill­boards af­ter the D.C. Coun­cil on Tues­day passed a mea­sure that al­lows the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als to in­stall mas­sive LED ads on the base­ball sta­dium’s ex­te­rior walls.

Ques­tions re­main about how the signs will af­fect the wa­ter­front district, even though the leg­is­la­tion un­der­went sev­eral re­vi­sions to re­strict the num­ber, size and lo­ca­tion of the bill­boards.

“It’s still a bad bill be­cause it per­mits five gi­gan­tic, elec­tronic, light-pol­lut­ing, ad-spew­ing ma­chines on the side of the Nats sta­dium,” said Meg Maguire, a mem­ber of The Com­mit­tee of 100 on the Fed­eral City — a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion founded nearly a cen­tury ago to mon­i­tor de­vel­op­ment in the District. “The re­stric­tions don’t take away the prob­lem.”

The Com­mit­tee of 100 on the Fed­eral City is joined by Ad­vi­sory Neigh­bor­hood Com­mis­sioner Andy Lit­sky in op­pos­ing the lighted signs — op­po­si­tion that goes be­yond where and how the signs will be placed, Ms. Maguire said in an in­ter­view.

“This comes at a time when we know that light pol­lu­tion has an ef­fect on hu­man health,” she said. “We know that LED bulbs can be in­ju­ri­ous to sleep, and now we’re putting up these mas­sive ma­chines. They’re go­ing to pol­lute our beau­ti­ful, emerg­ing, mixed-use com­mu­ni­ties.”

The mea­sure al­lows the Na­tion­als to erect five LED screens no larger than 38 feet by 25 feet out­side the 8-yearold sta­dium. The team says bill­boards will gen­er­ate up to $5 mil­lion a year in ad rev­enue — a tidy sum for a young club look­ing to make another play­off run and pos­si­bly pick up more tal­ent along the way.

The team hopes to have the bill­boards in place for the 2018 MLB All-Star Game, which the Na­tion­als are sched­uled to host.

Coun­cil mem­ber Charles Allen, who rep­re­sents the Ward 6 neigh­bor­hood where Na­tion­als Park is lo­cated, said law­mak­ers made some con­ces­sions in re­vis­ing the leg­is­la­tion to ad­dress crit­i­cism about the lighted signs since the first pub­lic hear­ing on the mea­sure in Novem­ber.

Orig­i­nally, the bill called for 10 signs and had few re­stric­tions on their place­ment. The re­vised bill, which the coun­cil passed 12-1 Tues­day, cuts the num­ber of bill­boards in half and pro­hibits them from di­rectly fac­ing South Capi­tol Street or res­i­den­tial build­ings.

Mr. Allen ac­knowl­edged that the leg­is­la­tion wouldn’t make ev­ery­one happy, but said there are enough pro­vi­sions to quell any fears that the signs will start pop­ping up all over the city.

He said those kinds of sings aren’t ap­pro­pri­ate ev­ery­where, but LED bill­boards make sense in a lively en­ter­tain­ment district with a base­ball sta­dium.

But that wasn’t enough to per­suade coun­cil mem­ber Elissa Sil­ver­man, the lone dis­sent­ing vote on the coun­cil.

“This thing was fast-tracked in a month,” the at-large in­de­pen­dent told The Wash­ing­ton Times on Wed­nes­day. “Per­haps there’s a time and place for them, but what’s the rush to judg­ment here?”

Ms. Sil­ver­man said she wants to know more about the signs’ im­pact on prop­erty val­ues, how they could af­fect drivers and how they could change the char­ac­ter of the neigh­bor­hood.

Ms. Maguire pointed to Chi­na­town as an ex­am­ple of LED bill­boards de­grad­ing res­i­dents’ qual­ity of life. The Ver­i­zon Cen­ter in 2012 was ap­proved for an ex­emp­tion of the city’s 1931 mora­to­rium on is­su­ing per­mits for large signs.

“Do you want that in your face night and day?” she said. “The ex­cuse is that it will some­how en­liven the pub­lic space, but that’s a prob­lem best solved by ur­ban de­sign­ers, peo­ple who op­er­ate at a hu­man scale. You don’t just call up a bill­board com­pany.”

And Ms. Sil­ver­man is still con­cerned about gi­ant signs pop­ping up across the District, de­spite pro­vi­sions in the bill ex­cept­ing the sta­dium from the mostly city­wide ban on lighted bill­boards.

“There’s a le­git­i­mate fear that if you cre­ate a carve out for the Nats, it’s a Pan­dora’s box,” she said. “It’s not like that’s un­founded.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

South­west wa­ter­front res­i­dents fear their neigh­bor­hood could see their com­mu­nity be­come pol­luted af­ter the D.C. Coun­cil on Tues­day passed a mea­sure that al­lows mas­sive LED bill­boards to be in­stalled on Na­tion­als Park’s ex­te­rior walls.

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