The Philadelphia Inquirer
The New Jersey Department of Transportation will not revoke a permit it approved six years ago for a South Jersey company with plans to install a towering digital billboard on the Camden waterfront, the agency confirmed Tuesday.
Earlier this month, the state agreed to review its decision, as requested by Camden Lutheran Housing Inc., a vocal opponent of the billboard project that has become controversial because of the waterfront location and its impact on the neighborhood.
CEO Drew Katz said Tuesday that his company, Interstate Outdoor Advertising, has been negotiating with the city for years, offering to help local nonprofits through “the perpetuity of outdoor advertising.” Proceeds from advertising sales, about $200,000 annually, would be earmarked for nonprofits in the city, Katz has said.
He said the Department of Transportation told him last week it would not revoke the state permit.
Department spokesperson Steven Shapiro confirmed Tuesday that the agency determined “no action was necessary.”
Earlier this month, the Camden Zoning Board of Adjustment granted a variance that would allow the billboard project to proceed, but there has been speculation by those involved that Mayor Frank Moran would veto that decision.
Moran did not respond Tuesday to requests seeking comment.
“We have reached out to the mayor,” Katz said, adding that he has called and emailed Moran to discuss alternatives that could satisfy all parties. “Unfortunately, we have not received a response to meet.”
If there is a veto, Katz said, he would consider a lawsuit.
“The state did a thorough review, and they decided our permit was valid,” Katz said.
The zoning board approved the variance for the property at Elm Street and Delaware Avenue, where the 167-foot-high, two-sided digital screens would target thousands of commuters who use the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Current zoning prohibits billboards, and opponents fear the giant structure would be an eyesore and undermine revitalization in the neighborhood and development along the river.
Jessica Franzini, associate director of community initiatives for Camden Lutheran, a nonprofit active in North Camden, said the group is waiting for an official notification from the Department of Transportation. Camden Lutheran and other activists question the validity of the department’s involvement. Since the agency approved the permit application, the area’s zoning has changed from industrial to a mixed waterfront designation, Franzini said.
Katz has said his firm has a lease to build on the site of an existing metal-finishing facility, which is an industrial use. Katz said Tuesday there are alternatives he wants to discuss with the mayor. He would not elaborate.
The billboard project has support in Camden from some residents and local organizations who believe Katz’s proposal can be part of the city’s revitalization.
Under a plan Katz announced in April, it would cost about $800,000 and take about six to eight months to construct the billboard. Katz, son of the late Lewis Katz, a Camden native who gave millions to his hometown, has said he created the billboard proposal to carry on his father’s philanthropic legacy. The elder Katz, a co-owner of the Inquirer and Daily News, died in a plane crash in May 2014.