Colossal Billboards Headed to Gallery Place Despite Resident Outcry

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Colossal Billboards Headed to Gallery Place Despite Resident Outcry was originally published on City Desk on Mar. 22, 2010, at 11:03 am

    What if you had a giant TV screen blinking outside your living room window at all hours of the evening? That’s already the case for some Gallery Place residents—and it may soon get worse.

    Just when residents thought they were safe from larger-than-life billboards popping up around the city—the D.C. Council shot down Mayor Adrian Fenty’s billboard blight resolution—Gallery Place may soon turn into a mini-Times Square.

    Orange Barrel Media, an Ohio-based advertising company, wants to install eight billboards. But not just any billboards: The outfit's forte is digital displays and 20,000-square-foot wallscapes.

    Assuming the D.C. Office of Planning gives the go-ahead, a 57-foot-by-9-foot digital billboard, animated from both sides, will be installed along the rotunda above Clyde’s at Seventh and G Streets NW, adjacent to the 192 units at the Residences at Gallery Place. That's scaled down by 50 percent from the original proposal.

    Although Orange Barrel's sign falls within the realm of the District’s 2004 Gallery Place Project signage legislation, the bill is meant to protect Gallery Place from becoming an eyesore. But residents believe these signs are just that.

    The Times Square comparison doesn't quite work: It's a major commercial center, with nothing residential. Gallery Place/Penn Quarter’s revival was due in part to the humanity that moved in and the businesses that prosper as a result. It’s supposed to be a neighborhood, says resident Drita Tonuzi. “We don’t have the height of the buildings in Times Square or the width of the street, so when you put all these Times Square features on it, it just looks ridiculous,” Tonuzi says.

    “There’s no way anybody who lives along there couldn’t feel the impact of the lights coming from this thing,” says Ann Hargrove, of Scenic DC, a nonprofit geared toward visually enhancing the city.

    In one resident’s condo, the sign outside will extend the length of his bedroom to his living room. “The company that’s putting the sign up suggested that I put black out drapes in my room, so I couldn’t see out and light couldn’t come in—that was their solution for me,” says Tom Held. “Thought I’d get some black paint and paint my windows black, that might be even better.”

    The G Street alley will be home to a second digital billboard, and six eight-foot digital kiosks will be placed along the sidewalks.

    Some residents are frustrated over a potential drop in property values, the bad deal Orange Barrel offered for the right to light up the neighborhood, and concerns about the safety of the signs. One of Orange Barrel’s LED screens on the corner of Seventh and H Streets NW caught fire last summer.

    “The proposed signs are only a few feet from where some people sleep,” says Martin Ditto, one condo owner and founder of Stop the Billboard.

    But the billboards have been scaled back on account of resident concerns, says Pete Scantland, president of Orange Barrel. The giant vertical billboard was originally going to be 75 feet in height. Plus, the LED sign in the G Street alley and its audio features have been eliminated. The signs will be operational only between 7 a.m. and 1 a.m. Motion graphics will stop at 10 p.m.

    “We spent the last year working with them, developing an agreement,” Scantland says. Residents also knew of the possibility of signage when they signed their condo agreement, Scantland adds.

    But residents argue the billboards are out of line. That’s like comparing our consent to retail-like noise to using a jackhammer at midnight, Ditto says.

    Tonuzi says, “The pitch they gave us was, we could do a lot more than what we proposed, but we scaled it back for you.”

    The condo association of the Residences at Gallery Place signed onto the project earlier this year. The agreement dishes out $125,000 a year for seven years to the condo association, according to a copy of the agreement with Gallery Place Media, LLC, the partnership between Gallery Place Partners and Orange Barrel Media.

    Individual residents, who’ve agreed, will also receive compensation for seven years–the amount is determined by the size of the condo.A number of residents have declined to accept the money. Ditto, for instance, turned down $39,900.

    Revenue from the ads will be split between Orange Barrel Media and owners of the building–including Akridge and Western Development Corp, who recently filed a lawsuit against the condo association, reported the Washington Business Journal.

    The condo association board has not endorsed the project, though, Ditto says. “They’ve been pressuring the board, saying it’s going to get passed no matter what—get on board, and we’ll pay you, or don’t get on board and we won’t pay you.”

    The condo association board, which has signed a non-disclosure agreement, would not comment to City Desk.

    Held worries that allowing these signs “sets a precedent, that once this sign goes up, then anybody can put up a 40- or 50-foot sign.”

    They expect to send in a proposal to the D.C. Office of Planning in the following weeks.

    Watch Orange Barrel Media's promotional video for the Gallery Place billboards:

    Photo by Francisco Diez, Creative Commons Attribution License