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    Local News
    Tuesday, June 18, 2024

    Sign company proposes giant LED billboards on I-395 in Norwich

    Norwich ― Drive south on Interstate 395 from Lisbon toward Norwich, go past Exit 18 and when the Lawler Lane overpass comes into view, picture this: a giant 14-by-48-foot LED lit digital billboard on the opposite side of the highway facing the southbound traffic.

    It’s not there now, but digital billboard sign company Outfront Media LLC of New York ― the company that owns the traditional billboards on the Viaduct in downtown Norwich that sport casino ads ― has proposed two giant LED signs for I-395 in Norwich in the area of the new Occum Industrial Center.

    One billboard would be erected on city-owned land at 131 Lawler Lane, on the northbound side of I-395, facing north to be viewed by southbound traffic. The second sign would be on land owned by the Norwich Community Development Corp. off Canterbury Turnpike in the new industrial park and would face northbound traffic on I-395. It would be situated just off the new access road to be built into the industrial park.

    Outfront has proposed a 20-year lease with the city for the 131 Lawler Lane location starting at $60,000 per year and increasing by 10% every five years for a total value of $1,392,300 over the life of the lease.

    Outfront would pay the cost of all permitting and maintenance, while the city would be asked to sign permit applications as the owner of the land, the lease proposal states.

    The proposed lease was presented to the City Council at the May 6 meeting, when the council was asked to authorize City Manager John Salomone to pursue the agreement with Outfront if the proposal is deemed viable.

    But aldermen had many questions about the proposal and opted to postpone action until the June 17 meeting to obtain more visual renderings and more information about the project. Council members asked for the meaning of the phrase “if viable” in the proposed resolution.

    Nystrom said viable means the billboard project can obtain all necessary permits.

    Outfront submitted a rendering of the billboard on the city’s Lawler Lane property. The sign would be on a sliver of the property near the highway, towering 30 feet above Lawler Lane.

    During public comment May 6, Lawler Lane resident Mark Perkins objected to the billboard, calling it a monstrosity that did not belong in the pristine neighborhood. He said the billboard location could need an access drive that would attract off-road vehicles and illegal dumping.

    “It’s completely out of character with the neighborhood,” Perkins said.

    Deanna Rhodes, director of planning and neighborhood services, said she could not comment on the specific plan, because it has not been submitted as an application to the city. Any proposed billboard would need local permits, and possibly state and federal approvals as well.

    NCDC President Kevin Brown said the plan for the NCDC property likewise is in the preliminary exploration stage. The NCDC Board of Directors has authorized agency leaders to continue negotiations to see if the project is viable.

    The city-owned property at 131 Lawler Lane is a 19-acre wooded parcel taken by the city for back taxes in 2015 from former owner Byron Brook LLC ― not associated with the similarly named Byron Brook firm that previously owned the land that now comprises the Occum Industrial Center. The Norwich land is not contiguous to the industrial park land.

    The proposed billboard would use only a sliver of the property along the highway. Salomone said the billboard proposal has brought the land to his attention. He will ask city officials to look at the property and explore possible options. Much of the land is wet, he said.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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