AUBURN - Selectmen have given an enthusiastic thumbs-up to a zoning bylaw amendment that would allow the Auburn Mall to erect two electronic billboards overlooking the Massachusetts Turnpike.
On the surface, the amendment is a fairly routine zoning update with direct benefits for the Auburn Mall, but it also has several potential benefits for the town as a whole, including a substantial cash payment that has been tentatively earmarked for making improvements in the Drury Square area.
"I think it`s great for the Auburn Mall, I think it`s great for the town, I think it`s going to be a great thing all around," Chairman Kenneth A. Holstrom said before the board unanimously approving the proposed amendment and forwarding it to the Planning Board for a public hearing. Ultimately, the amendment would have to be approved by voters at town meeting.
The proposal would amend the town`s Regional Mall Overlay District to allow for the installation of two double-sided digital billboards to be operated by the Seattle-based Total Outdoor Advertising, which has a corporate office in Boston. The billboards would primarily run ads by local and national businesses, but could also be used to promote town events and run emergency announcements such as Amber Alerts. As per state regulations, the billboards would also be required to dedicate 15 hours per month to public service messages.
According to Drew Hoffman of Total Outdoor Advertising, tobacco and adult entertainment would not be allowable advertising on the billboards.
The double-sided billboards employ "Siteline LED" technology that greatly reduces light pollution. The billboards would be aligned to be fully visible to drivers on the turnpike, but anyone viewing the billboards at an angle greater than 30 degrees would see nothing. Consequently, they would be effectively invisible to nearby residential areas, specifically the Pakachoag Street area, Mr. Hoffman said.
The Auburn Mall would benefit from the billboards in the form of advertising revenue. "That would help keep them viable," Town Manager Julia A. Jacobson said, noting that the mall is the town`s largest taxpayer.
The town would benefit through what Mr. Hoffman called a "voluntary donation" of $1 million, to be paid to the town over 20 years in two phases. The town would first receive a lump sum of $250,000, the first five years` worth of payments, upon project completion, followed by annual payments of $50,000. This is in addition to the donation of a small, freestanding, portable digital billboard for general town use.
Ms. Jacobson said the money could be useful in helping Auburn pursue its Drury Square revitalization project. The town has already obtained a $10,000 Massachusetts Downtown Initiative Grant to help create design guidelines to enhance Drury Square as a "village center" for Auburn.