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PennDOT to control digital signage on East Market Street

Most Philadelphians think of zoning as a set of regulations that controls the kind and size of buildings that can be erected on a specified tract of land. Zoning regulations also affect another important aspect of commercial real estate: the use of buildings as sites for large outdoor signs. The digital age has brought with it new techniques for creating and operating outdoor advertising, and the City of Philadelphia is attempting to cope with these advances by creating commercial advertising districts in which the type and size of digital signs is subject to review.

In 2011, the city created the Market Street East Advertising District to control digital advertising screens on East Market Street between Seventh and Thirteenth Streets. The district allows developers to add digital signage to commercial properties that incorporate public improvements of at least $10 million. The creation of such districts is ultimately subject to the approval of the Federal Highway Administration, and it now appears that the city has failed to satisfy some FHA requirements necessary to retain that control.

According to a recent letter from the FHA, the city failed to provide adequate certification that would have allowed the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to state to the FHA that Philadelphia was effectively controlling outdoor advertising. After placing all of the city's outdoor advertising under PennDOT's control in 2015 with the exception of the Market Street East district, the FHA recently announced that it was placing that district under PennDOT's "exclusive" control. Spokespersons for the city have stated that efforts are underway to resolve the dispute.

Whatever the outcome of this jurisdictional dispute may be, developers can rest assured that they will be required to obtain approval from either the city or PennDOT to place large digital advertising on the facades of their buildings. Developers can also be assured that the regulations will be complex and detailed - whichever agency is charged with enforcing them.

Source: Philly Voice, "PennDOT takes control of Market Street East Advertising District," John Kopp, Sept. 6, 2016

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