The Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board unanimously denied variances Wednesday night that would have allowed developer Abraham Atiyeh to put up a large electronic billboard along Route 378 at 12th Avenue.
Board members appeared to be concerned that the proposed billboard could prove to be a dangerous distraction to drivers.
The city zoning law does permit a billboard in the proposed location – 825 12th Ave., the site of an old thread mill in a neighborhood zoned for light industrial use.
However, the zoning code only allows billboards of 100 square feet or less at heights of up to 25 feet. Atiyeh’s Pennsylvania Venture Capital Inc. was looking to build an electronic advertising sign 25 feet wide by 25 feet tall – 625 square feet – at a height of 49 feet.
The proposed sign would have faced northbound traffic coming out of a curve after the Eighth Avenue exit of the highway. Advertising messages would have rotated every six seconds on the LED display – per Pennsylvania Department of Transportation regulations, according to David J. Harte, the vice president of Pennsylvania Venture Capital.
The sign would also have the capability of flashing Amber alerts for missing children or warn motorists of traffic delaying accidents or dangerous road conditions along Route 22, which lies just a few miles north of the proposed billboard location.
In addition to making a case for the public service the billboard could provide, Harte also argued that a billboard built larger and higher would be safer for drivers than a smaller, lower one.
The reason: A motorist would be able to read the larger, higher billboard while keeping focused on the field of vision on the road ahead. A lower, smaller billboard forces drivers to briefly refocus away from the road, he testified.
Traffic engineering consultant Bernard M. Telatovich, vice president of Benchmark Civil Engineering Services Inc. in Allentown, testified that this proposed billboard is actually closer to a standard industry size of 674 square feet than the 100 square feet in the city’s zoning code.
Upon questioning from board members, Telatovich also testified that no study has ever shown the billboards cause traffic accidents.
“Why would we take the chance of it being a safety hazard?” asked board member Linda Shay-Gardner.
Responded Atiyeh’s attorney, Mark Malkames: “They say it’s easier to find a needle in a haystack than to prove one doesn’t exist.”
Atiyeh said he would appeal the decision to the court of common pleas.