Could third time be the charm for digital billboards in Milford?

MILFORD — The owner of six billboards along the Interstate 95 corridor in Milford is hoping the third time is a charm as he pushes to turn his static billboards digital.

Dominick DeMartino, owner of the signs, has proposed a zone change that, if approved, would allow his six billboards to be transformed into digital billboards. He has tried on two occasions — in 2019 and 2020 — to get P&Z support but both efforts were met with denial.

The zone change amendment, which was the focus of a public hearing Tuesday, was met once again with opposition. Several residents spoke against the proposal, while more than 30 submitted letters to the board stating their opposition.

“Electronic billboards come at no benefit to Milford but come with plenty of costs,” said resident Joe DeSisto Alling. “Billboards along the I-95 corridor would disturb the many neighbors who live nearby and, in my opinion, certainly qualify as misdirected and excessive artificial light that (the present regulation) is designed to prevent.”

The board closed the public hearing Tuesday and tabled any decision. A motion approving the proposal was made, but the board delayed any vote until a final resolution could be crafted by City Planner David Sulkis.

The proposal needs six votes out of 10 to pass. In 2020, the board’s vote was 5-5, while in 2019, the board voted 5-4 in favor of adopting the revised regulations.

“These purposely eye-catching designs take drivers’ eyes off the road for longer than two seconds, often in a long, single glance,” said Sarah Bromley of Norway Street. “While this might seem like a relatively short period of time, researchers have found that glancing away from the road for as little as two seconds doubles your chance of causing a crash.”

Bromley said what makes digital billboards especially dangerous is that they often draw unintended glances.

“Even when motorists are doing their best to truly stay focused on driving, the lights, colors, and movement so often found on digital billboards lead to involuntary glances,” she said. “Bright digital billboards can also pose a heightened safety hazard during nighttime driving. Especially in poorly lit areas, a digital billboard may stand out more than anything else and involuntarily draw a driver’s attention.”

According to a Swedish research study on impacts of electronic billboards — submitted by DeMartino at his past application — “billboards have an effect on gaze behaviour by attracting more and longer glances than regular traffic signs. Whether the billboards attract attention too much, that is, whether they are a traffic safety hazard, cannot be answered conclusively based on the present data.”

Ann Carter of Burwell Avenue said she has seen digital billboards along I-95.

“They are not a benefit but rather a negative by contributing to the light pollution in the night sky and posing a hazardous distraction,” she said.

The change would affect the two billboards at 58-60 Research Drive, another adjacent to 84 Research Drive, and one next to a building at 116 Research Drive. These Research Drive properties in the ID zone are all owned by D’Amato Investments LLC.

In addition, the change would include the sign in the state DOT right of way between the Metro-North Railroad tracks and the southbound lanes of I-95, near 270 Rowe Ave.

DeMartino had also proposed modernizing one on land adjacent to 590 West Ave., next to the Gloria Commons, but that one was removed during the meeting after he heard concerns from a representative of that development.

The proposed new regulations would detail the specifications for electronic digital billboard signs, describe permitted locations, and include limits on how much light they can project. The regulations would be limited to the conversion of existing “commercial advertising signs,” and would not allow an increase in non-conformity related to “height, distance, size and location requirements.”

The display would have to face the I-95 corridor “at an angle of 90 degrees or less at the point nearest the sign structure” and be “located no more than a distance of 200 feet from the I-95 Corridor.”