The Polish-American Club on Boston Street and a Norwell billboard company yesterday sued the Zoning Board of Appeal over its rejection of a plan to build an electronic billboard aimed at motorists on the neighboring Southeast Expressway.
In their suit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, the club and Media Partners MRV charge the board vote was arbitrary and capricious just in general, but more specifically "legally untenable" because board Chairwoman Christine Araujo allowed a vote during a Zoom meeting rather than holding off until the company could get the board the detailed plans it says it submitted but somehow got lost in the ether. At least one board member, Mark Erlich, hesitated to vote without seeing those plans; Araujo denied a request from board member Eric Robinson to continue the hearing until after the board could look at the plans.
The lawsuit says that had the hearing been held in person, as was done before the pandemic, a lawyer for the the company could have simply handed the plans to the board for its review.
Owing to the hearing being virtual conducted through the Zoom platform, the LLC was not able physically to approach the Board and provide the Board with these materials, in real time, at the hearing.
The proposal required variances in part because the Boston zoning code prohibits the erection of new billboards in general, in part because new billboards next to highways are banned unless the BPDA approves them. In this case, the BPDA opposed the proposal.
At the hearing, the company argued it warranted variances because it had agreed to remove three billboards elsewhere in Dorchester - one at the intersection of Dorchester Avenue and Freeport Street - and because the 14-by-48 sign would be beamed at the roadway, with "light blocking technology" to keep it from shining on nearby homes and businesses.
The Polish-American Club said rental revenue from the pylon and sign would help keep it afloat. In the complaint, the club says the company would pay it a base rental of $75,000 for the first year's lease, then increase that by 3% every year for the next 30 years - on top of which the company would also pay the club 30% of all revenue from ad sales above the base lease.
Board members pushed back on the removal plan, saying it depended on the company winning permission from the owners of two other billboards in the neighborhood. Member Joe Ruggiero moved to approve the sign with a condition it not go up until after all three of the other signs had been removed.
In their complaint, the club and company ask a judge to toss out the board rejection "as unlawful and issued in excess of the Board's authority," or to grant other, unspecified relief to them.
Watch the board hearing: