City agencies have approved renewal permits for three large digital advertising signs at the Verizon Center, but neighborhood leaders and residents remain opposed to the extension without further review of local impacts.
Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2C (Downtown, Penn Quarter) voted unanimously last Wednesday to once again oppose retaining the signs and to request that the Office of Planning and the D.C. Department of Transportation study their effects.
The renewal process comes after the D.C. Council approved three large digital signs at the Verizon Center for a three-year period beginning in 2013. Monumental Sports and Entertainment, which owns the venue, has pledged to improve the signs based on community feedback, but overall remains committed to extending the signs for another three years. Numerous residents, meanwhile, believe the signs disrupt their sleep and threaten their quality of life.
D.C. law outlines a review procedure for city agencies to follow when determining whether the signs comply with the law. Although neighbors feel a detailed adverse impact study is necessary, the Transportation Department and Office of Planning said late last year that they’d seen no such ill effects and that further evaluation isn’t necessary.
At that point, the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has no choice but to approve permits for the electronic signs, the agency’s legislative director Matt Orlins told ANC 2C last Monday.
“This is the law that we have to implement. We’re not taking a policy position,” Orlins said. “We’re simply enforcing the law that’s written on the books, because as a regulatory agency that’s our job.”
In an interview, ANC 2C chair John Tinpe said residents don’t necessarily think the signs should be taken down, but he and his colleagues want to see a more formal process for assessing the signs’ effects on the community.
“What department heads have said is basically they have fulfilled an obligation because ‘we see there is no adverse impact as we define it, therefore there’s no need for a report,’” Tinpe said. “Residents define adverse impact in a different way.”
Elizabeth Miller, a Gallery Place resident, said she would have to close her blinds soon after nightfall if she wanted to shut out light from the signs altogether. She doesn’t believe she should have to do that, though.
“We’re not trying to make this stuff disappear,” Miller said. “We just want to learn how to live together.”
A recently approved council bill for a set of five digital signs at Nationals Park in Ward 6 has provided opponents of the Verizon Center signs — including lawyer David Julyan, who represents a group of disgruntled residents of the Terrell Place condominium on 7th Street NW — with a template for addressing their concerns. Julyan said at the meeting that he wants ANC 2C to oppose — and the D.C. Council to ban — fullmotion video on the signs, as the council did recently with the Nationals Park legislation.
Meanwhile, two council members would like to see an 8 percent developer’s tax on electronic advertising signs. During the council’s discussion of Nationals Park, Ward 6 member Charles Allen and at-large member Robert White wrote an amendment regarding that tax, but Allen told The Current that he removed it pending resolution of legal issues. But he and White remain committed to the amendment and hope to introduce it later this spring during the annual budget process, establishing a model that could be replicated in the Verizon Center discussions, Allen said.
While restrictive of certain sign attributes, the Nationals Park legislation has also prompted broader citywide concern among critics of digital signs. In addition to granting permits for five signs at the baseball stadium, the law allows Mayor Muriel Bowser to establish “entertainment districts” across the city where digital signs can be erected with fewer restrictions. At last Wednesday’s meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B (Dupont Circle), Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans reassured residents that their neighborhood and others like it weren’t the target of this provision.
Evans supports the law because it allows revenue-generating digital signs at key sites like the planned new soccer stadium in Southwest, the proposed Wizards practice facility in Southeast and any potential new football arena at the RFK Stadium site. He said he would discourage any attempt by the mayor to extend entertainment districts beyond those sites, though he doubts she’ll try. “
Frankly, part of it is that they make money,” Evans said. “Some people really like watching them, and other people hate them.”
Monumental’s spokesperson declined to comment on how much revenue the signs generate.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who previously criticized city agencies for failing to enforce existing laws for the Verizon Center’s signs, wasn’t available for comment in time for publication.