HAZLET – Drivers on Route 35 will soon see a two-sided electronic LED billboard over the highway, near the Hazlet Avenue jughandle.
Outfront Media’s sign will be about the same height as the existing Interstate Outdoor Advertising billboard over Cerlione’s, across the highway.
On April 4, Hazlet’s Land Use board narrowly voted to approve a variance permitting the billboard, which was required because billboards are not permitted under Hazlet zoning.
Outfront Media had to prove to the board’s satisfaction that no negative impact would be created by swapping out its low, static side-by-side signs on the Hazlet Avenue jughandle in favor of a 44-foot high digital billboard closer to the highway, lit 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
“We would argue its actually improving the aesthetics,” said Outfront Media’s counsel Louis L. D’Armino, “in the sense that right now, you’ve got a board that has various supports on the ground, it’s old, and it has old lighting. Not that that lighting is bad, but it is lighting that’s ‘up’ lighting and surrounds the sign, and this now is dedicated lighting that is a clear, crisp board with single supports with a smaller sign face. And also, it’s an efficient use of land.”
Originally presented as a straight back-to-back design, Outfront Media reconfigured its plan by the second meeting to be slightly angled toward the roadway in a v-shaped spread, an adjustment it said they made to reduce visibility to neighbors. The sign will beam 8-second long messages in an advertising loop of 8 messages, like the one across the highway.
Part of that rotation will include public service messages approved by Hazlet Township, such as urgent information and township-sponsored events. In Stafford Township, Outfront Media offers the municipality 8 seconds of public access every two cycles, or 90 minutes total daily. At the request of the board, they will offer Hazlet the same deal: 90 minutes of public programming a day on each side.
Over three lengthy sessions, Outfront Media’s attorney and its team of experts sought to prove that “modernizing” their dual 276-foot static signs with the new design and would not have a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood, zoning and township master plan in terms of lighting, driver distractibility and other issues.
The company presented the Land Use Board with visuals and engineering reports to address concerns about potential distraction by competing billboards at the site. Their engineering experts cited federal studies that showed accidents did not substantially increase in traffic accidents related to digital billboards.
Digital billboards are regulated by the state, and they said they satisfied state Dept. of Transportation spacing standards with the other billboard when they were granted a permit.
To address aesthetics, they offered to put up side shielding as a condition of the approval, if there are complaints by homeowners or business owners.
In order to win approval, they needed 5 votes from the 9-member Land Use Board. The board members voted 5-2. Chairman Christopher Cavanaugh and Vice Chairman Steven Sanfilippo voted no.
Making the motion to approve was member Cliff Moore, seconded by Kathy Bossert, with members Mike Fabozzi, Tom Horner and alternate Steven Grossman also voting yes.
Absent were member Joe Belasco and alternate Mike Lencsak. Township Committee members Michael Glackin and Mike Sachs were recused from the case because it was a use variance, and local government officers are not permitted to participate under the state local government ethics law.
During the hearings, Outfront Media estimated that the side-by-side static billboards date back 70 years. Board Attorney Greg Vella said it was possible they predated the jughandle.