Pine Street Digital Billboard Gets Lukewarm Reception from Neighbors

A proposal from Pine Street Inn to expand their existing billboard program and convert it to digital got a lukewarm reception on Tuesday, Jan. 5, at the East Berkeley Neighborhood Association (EBNA) meeting – with many neighbors citing the familiar refrain that they support Pine Street, but…

The proposal has yet to be filed with the state Office of Outdoor Advertising, but it has been filed with the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), though there is no hearing date yet. Attorney Dan Toscano, of the North End, said they plan to convert both existing static billboards (facing North and East) to digital. They also plan to expand the East facing billboard from 20’ x 40’ to 20’ x 60’. They pledged to turn them off from midnight to 5 a.m., that they would be 25 percent less bright than the existing boards and to give 15 hours per month to community advertising.

The existing boards have been a great revenue source since going through a community process and being installed in 2013. In that time, Toscano said there have been no complaints about them.

“Moving to digital billboards would generate additional funding,” he said. “The static billboards are usually owned by big companies and they own the structure and reap all the profits. This one is unique because they don’t own the structure, but they do own the licensing and revenues go right back to the community to help fight homelessness at Pine Street and job training programs and other services. They keep 100 percent of the revenues.”

Pine Street’s Aimee Cooledge said they put the billboard up with the blessing of the neighborhood and it provided very needed revenues. They have used those revenues to enhance security at Pine Street, and to help fund a three-year City program to move people out of homelessness and into housing.

“We continue to have the billboard, but we’d like to change it and transfer it to a digital billboard,” she said. “A digital billboard will provide more revenues and we continue to need the funding.

Community members were not thrilled about the digital lighting, and asked that the boards be turned off at night – particularly those that face new apartments on East Berkeley Street.

“A digital billboard seems to me like it beings more light pollution,” said Lewis Wheeler. “I get the additional revenues, but I feel like it could also distract drivers…One of these boards will face new apartments on East Berkeley Street. These are things to think about, especially those facing to East Berkeley Street.”

Jane Brayton said she supports the efforts by Pine Street, but didn’t really feel like it was appropriate to expand the east-facing board by 20 feet.

“I certainly support Pine Street generating more money, but you have to think about your neighbors and the sky being lit up,” she said. “Twenty feet is really, really big. I don’t think you need to be symmetrical. That’s not a priority on my list at all.”

City Councilor Ed Flynn stressed heavily that he plays a big role in the process, and he said billboards aren’t his favorite thing. He said he will fight for the neighborhood first.

“I am adamantly opposed to electronic billboards in my district,” he said. “I would probably support this one because I have such great respect for Pine Street Inn, but I’m here for the neighbors and community process and the voices of the neighbors on this need to be heard. The BPDA might be putting regulations in on turning off the boards at night, but I don’t work for the BPDA. I’m going to make sure the neighborhood voice is heard in this process. We need a robust discussion and it will take time. I think we can get there though.”

Cooledge added it was just the beginning of a discussion.

The best comment of the night, however, came from City Lights founder Duggan Hill, who once taught Attorney Toscano at the Washington Street studio when he was a teen-ager.

“Dan Toscano 35 years ago was a break dancer,” he said with a laugh.

Liquor Licenses Approved at SoWa

EBNA President Ken Smith informed the neighborhood that two liquor licenses – one for the Power Station Event Venue at SoWa and the other for a new Jeff Gates Asian fusion concept at SoWa – were approved in the last weeks of December.

Several concerns had been raised about the Power Station license at the November meeting, but there were a great number of supporters too. Smith said the EBNA letter to the liquor board did reflect the concerns.

“At the end of the day, they did get the licenses,” he said. “This is where the communication continues. I plan to continue discussions with Jeff Gates and Mario Nicosia of GTI about more mitigation.”

New Individual Training Business Opens

Two familiar faces from the now-defunct Boston Sports Clubs facility at SoWa announced to EBNA they will be opening up their own personal training business, Elite Training Group, at the former Celebrity Barbershop, 1242 Washington St.

Trainers Kris Kranzky and Steven Stewart told EBNA they hoped to open up a personal training studio in the building that would be open by appointment only from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. They came to ask for support for a permanent change of use on the building from barber shop use to a gym use.

“We think once we come out of the emergency we’re in, we will see a lot of people who have been sedentary a long time and we see our business as a way to help people break out of that and get active again,” said Kranzky.

Stewart said they would be following all safety protocols through the COVID-19 emergency and would really be focusing on one-on-one training with weights, cardio machines and other exercises. They plan to focus on package deals rather than on monthly fees.

State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz

State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz – in the midst of a marathon final day of session at the State House – joined EBNA for an update from the state on Tuesday as well.

Michlewitz highlighted some of the recent bills passed, including the Police Reform Act and the override of Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto of the Roe Act reforms. He also detailed the help that the state and federal government have provided to small business and restaurants – which has been a great focus of his lately.

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