Members of the Evesham zoning board Monday night voted to deny an application by an advertising company to build 58-foot-tall landmark signs with LED message boards near the Routes 73 and 70 intersection.
The Zoning Board of Adjustment vote was three in favor and four against a motion to grant the use variance. Five votes in favor were needed.
"I do not see a public good," said board chair Sandy Student, explaining his vote against the project proposed by Catalyst Experiential LLC of Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. "I see no jobs. I see no improvement to the quality of life."
Student, who was an author of the township's downtown vision plan, said: "This is not at all what we had envisioned."
Board vice chair Michael Thompson, who also voted against the plan, said he didn't believe the sign "fits in" or represents the people who live in the township.
Others voting to deny, besides Student and Thompson, were Albert Lutner and Robert Osno. Voting in favor of granting the variance were Rochelle Thomas, Patrick Carragher and Curtis Fox, who said he thought "the sign is a good thing for the town."
The 47-foot-wide landmark signs, with two red brick columns, were proposed for a corner of the four-acre Caliber Collision property on Route 73. Evesham Township’s name would have been on top of the monument in three-foot-high letters, while the LED signs would have been 17 feet high.
Plans for the LED signs said the township would get its own message on each sign every two minutes. Every message on the signs would appear for eight seconds before changing. The remaining messages would be sold by a Catalyst subsidiary to local, regional or national advertisers.
Thaddeus Bartkowski, CEO of Catalyst Experiential, told the board the landmark signs would help to reinforce a sense of place for the township.
But present and former township officials and several other residents testifying at the hearing were firmly opposed to the landmark signs.
"If there was a less qualified application… I can't remember it," said Robert DiEnna, who until the end of 2020 was a Township Council member. He served on the council eight years and on the Planning Board for 10 years. "It’s considered attractive? By whom?" DiEnna said.
Alicia Marrone, chair of the Planning Board, said the brick monument sign with its LED sign board isn’t what the township had in mind with its vision plan for downtown.
The Planning Board last week unanimously endorsed the 60-page "Evesham Township Downtown Vision Plan," which aims to improve the look of downtown and add more venues such as sidewalk restaurants. Marrone said she doubted if a Haddonfield or a Moorestown would allow a project like the landmark sign.
Citing the height of the sign, resident Mark McKenna of Cheryl Court testified that the sign is "like an entrance to a theme park. That's not what we want to give off for Evesham Township."
Andrew Wilson of Thornwood Drive, a former member of the zoning board, testified that the plan is to try to beautify the area around Routes 70 and 73. Billboards are not mentioned in plans and they should be excluded, he said. For the township, "any actual benefit is minimal at best," he added.
Catalyst Experiential has built more than 100 monument signs in communities and, at the same time, offered the municipalities different types of local improvements. For example, Catalyst now is constructing an EMS headquarters on Route 73 in Mount Laurel that will be turned over to the township. Catalyst will have LED signs on that building.
The company also has applied to the Evesham zoning board to construct at 39-space paid parking lot behind 12 and 14 North Maple Avenue in the downtown section. The parking lot would have been a condition of getting the approval for the large monument sign.
Last Friday, Catalyst Experiential withdrew an application to build another monument sign on the site of the Gulf gasoline station at the "Y" in the road, where South Maple Avenue splits to the right and Route 73 northbound continues to the left, according to the zoning board agenda.
However, the company still will have one monument sign in the township. The zoning board last January unanimously approved a Catalyst Experiential monument sign at 936 Route 70 West, between Route 70 and Old Marlton Pike.
Construction of the Route 70 monument sign installation — 38 feet high on a circular base 88 feet in diameter with a reflecting pool and landscaping — is scheduled for May, Bartkowski told the board.