Billboards on East Main Road: Do Tough Times Call For Scenic Concessions?
Billboards on East Main Road currently bring in $42,500 of advertising revenue. Council has said they do not plan to renew the lease, which is set to expire at the end of November.
For three years Middletown has rented space to the advertising company Lamar, for the right to place billboards at the town's Boulevard Nurseries property on East Main Road. The town receives $42,500 annually for the agreement, which is set to expire at the end of November.
The council voted not to renew the lease.
Scenic America has formally commended the council for its decision. Scenic America is a nonprofit advocacy organization based out of Washington D.C. with a stated mission to preserve the scenic character of America's communities and countryside.
The organization said the site piqued their interest while on a retreat in Newport last summer.
“We were so fascinated by the story of the billboards located along East Main Road in Middletown that Bill Brinton, our distinguished attorney and an expert litigator on billboard matters from Jacksonville, Florida, took a cab to view the site,” Scenic America wrote to the council.
The town acquired the land which had the billboards already in place. The land is currently conserved by the Aquidneck Land Trust, and can not be developed upon. In a 2009 resolution, the council cited legal restrictions that would prevent the town from evicting Lamar at that time, as well as the financial benefits for the town, as reasons to enter a rental agreement with the company.
In addition to compromising the vista, Scenic America said studies have demonstrated billboards negatively impact nearby real estate values.
Four candidates for Middletown Council, Olin (Butch) Gambrell, Richard Francis, Paul Rodrigues and Robert J. Sylvia have spoken up against the decision.
“We have numerous residents who are scraping pennies in order to keep their homes,” said the candidates in a written statement.
The candidates have hired an attorney, citing that the decision should be reevaluated after elections.
“We want to clarify we have no intention to sue the town,” said Sylvia. “If it came to that, we would back off.”
Former council member Charles Vaillancourt criticized Rodrigues and Sylvia, both former council members, for their decision to hire an attorney.
“For either Paul Rodrigues or Robert Sylvia to suggest they are challenging the town in order to save the taxpayer money is insincere at best,” wrote Villancourt in a letter to the editor. “If they back off their plan to sue the town, then they were just looking for free press. Either way, that is not how a candidate should conduct a campaign or represent his constituents.”
In an interview, Sylvia said the town should keep the signs up until the economy improves; at that point, the town could revisit. Once the signs come down, the town will not be able to put them back up, he said.
"It costs the town nothing," said Sylvia.
What do you think? Is it worth $42,500 a year to keep billboard advertisements on the property?
Read the full statements here: