A zoning hearing is scheduled next week in Easton over a proposal to put a digital billboard on a downtown building, a proposal that already has triggered a $7.2 million lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed last year in federal court by Adams Outdoor Advertising of Bethlehem after the city refused to approve the digital billboard, which would grace the Wells Fargo building facing Centre Square in downtown Easton.
The billboard requires a zoning change because of its size, the fact that it’s a digital billboard, and because it would advertise businesses not at the same site, said Stephen Nowroski, director of zoning for Easton.
The property’s owner Dennis Benner is expected to appear at the city’s next zoning board hearing on Feb. 19 to continue discussing the request for a change. An earlier hearing took place in January.
Mayor Sal Panto said he does not support the change.
“Our city is against the billboard in our square because it violates zoning laws, [and our] sign ordinance and historic district ordinance,” Panto said.
Panto said the billboard could distract motorists since it would have a display with rapidly changing graphics and would be the same height as traffic signals in Centre Square, which motorists navigate as they travel through downtown Easton.
Benner said the billboard is almost identical to one outside PPL Center in Allentown, which he said complements the activity occurring around it.
The billboard would go up on the northwest corner of the building, Benner said, and could help attract people to the building, as well as other nearby businesses.
“It’s in the heart of a downtown district,” Benner said. “That would be the benefit to a tenant there. I think it presents a certain pedigree to that location. Why wouldn’t you want to tell the world where you are at?”
Benner recently renovated the Wells Fargo building as a project called One 6 Flats. Along with Benner’s sons, Brandon and Garrett, they turned the upper floors into 28 apartments.
Benner is also seeking a tenant for the first floor space, which was formerly leased by Wells Fargo. The only tenant that has shown interest in the space so far is a discount store.