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Akron City Council considers 205-foot digital billboard visible from Ohio 8 bridge

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 12/10/2019 By Robin Goist,

AKRON, Ohio -- City Council on Monday requested additional time to review a controversial proposal for a 205-foot digital billboard to be built on East North Street so as to be visible to drivers on the Ohio 8 bridge just north of downtown Akron.

John Kirirah, owner of Shelby County-based Kenjoh Outdoor Advertising, has requested to build the double-sided billboard behind an auto body shop on the 400 block of East North Street. The LED displays would measure 14 feet by 48 feet.

Michael Antenucci, Akron’s zoning manager, said both the Urban Design and Historic Preservation Commission and Planning Commission disapprove of the proposal because the city’s zoning code does not permit signs taller than 50 feet above the ground. While the proposed billboard would be about 50 feet above the Ohio 8 bridge, its height from the ground on North Street would be more than quadruple the city’s limit.

“The extremely tall structure would appear out-of-place adjacent to the bridge, overlooking the forest of the Cuyahoga River valley below and along the streetscape of North Street,” Antenucci said. “Additionally, it would intrude on the views of recreational tourists on both the Freedom Trail and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.”

Antenucci also said the city and Ohio Department of Transportation are planning to replace the Ohio 8 bridge within five years, and to build new northbound and southbound structures in a “visually pleasing environment.” The planning staff disapproved of the proposed LED billboard because it would “intensify visual clutter and detract from a location where the beneficial calming effects of urban greenspace are available," Antenucci said.

Kirirah and his lawyer, Kyle Kramer, said the proposed billboard is set to be approved by the Ohio Department of Transportation which oversees and maintains the Ohio 8 bridge. Kirirah compared it to another one of his billboards that is visible from an Interstate 480 bridge in Independence, arguing that it does not look out of place or unattractive.

Ward 8 Councilwoman Marilyn Keith said at Monday afternoon’s Planning Committee meeting that numerous Northwest Akron residents have complained to her about the erection of new billboards since she was elected in 2012. Keith, who was Council President in 2016 and 2017, is in her final weeks on Council after losing a primary race for an at-large seat, and will be succeeded by former Akron Assistant Director of Law Shammas Malik.

“It’s been very obvious, the pushback I have gotten in my ward over the years," Keith said. “They call this ‘litter on a stick’,. I’m not saying that - that’s what I’ve heard. But what I will say is it’s like home-rule, like we don’t have a right to say what we want to be viewing as we drive our roads?”

Ward 1 Councilman Rich Swirsky said he doesn’t see the social benefit of the proposed billboard.

“Why would we not follow the rules that were established to help protect the integrity of our community?” Swirsky asked. “This would definitely be a visual disturbance and a hindrance in our effort to attract new people to come and live in Akron. One of our greatest strengths we have is we’re surrounded by a very beautiful canopy... People look for livable, walkable neighborhoods. They don’t look for a place that has the most egregious Chipotle signs.”

At-large Councilwoman Linda Omobien said Council “lost this argument a long time ago” when billboards started being built along freeways in the city.

“I don’t see the difference between this and what we’ve already done,” Omobien said.

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