A lawsuit by Adams Outdoor Sign Company has prompted Easton officials to propose changes to the city zoning map and create three "expressway transitional zones" that specifically allow for the placement of billboard advertising.
"The bottom line is, [the city]...did not provide for any district for which this type of sign is allowed," city solicitor Joel Scheer told members during a hearing on the matter Wednesday evening.
Being without a provision for billboard advertising on the city zoning maps not only leaves the city open to lawsuits, it give the city a lot less control over where such large signs should be placed, he said.
"The courts have said, then they could place it anywhere," Scheer said. "We've reached an agreement with Adams...where we would amend our zoning ordinance where these signs would be permitted."
That doesn't mean the lawsuit will just go away, he added, but Adams is likely to be amenable to the changes.
City Planner Becky Bradley said the new districts, on the edges of the city, were carefully chosen, and any new signs that are allowed will not affect residences.
"We looked at the housing and the impact it could have on planning,” she said. "We also asked Adams, 'Where would you put a sign?' because it didn't make sense if you couldn't put a sign there and it put us back where we started."
Planning commission member Dennis Lieb, however, was not so enthusiastic, saying it was council's job to represent the citizens and not just respond to lawsuits and "the demands of a corporation."
"I rejected this on the basis that, if the public were asked, it would not be allowed in Easton,” he said. "If we're going to be sued for something, let it be for something we believe in. I think we should just reject their right to operate here."
Mayor Sal Panto said he agreed in principle with Lieb, but opposing state law is impractical.
"I don't want adult bookstores in the city either, but the state says we have to provide a district for them," Panto said, adding that non-compliance could jeopardize city fuel reimbursements from the state, which would be too costly.
In other business:
- City officials announced that the will be cutting back due to budget constraints. Councilwoman Elinor Warner says this means "a slight reduction" in staff, as as well as a reduction of service in some blocks.
- The Easton needs to be replaced, at an estimated cost of $30,000 -- far more than is likely to be raised by the Holiday Committee, which fell thousands short of its fundraising goals this past year, said Panto. The candle has until 2013 at the latest, the mayor said.
- The "" at 501 Northampton St., was officially deemed blighted at the vacant property committee meeting earlier in the evening, paving the way for the city to take possession of it through eminent domain. The building -- which has been vacant for decades -- is the former home of a Revolutionary War colonel and possibly the oldest standing building in Easton.