Co-Op City residents win billboard battle

Massive digital billboards spark Co-op City protest|Massive digital billboards spark Co-op City protest|Massive digital billboards spark Co-op City protest

Co-op City residents celebrated a victory against a series of massive billboards that had disrupted their quality of life.

The Board of Standards and Appeals voted to halt construction on a massive monopole that would have glared into the residents’ homes.

Oppostion of the billboards began with a protest in late Janaury.

Shouts of “take it down!” and “respect our community!” echoed on Baychester Avenue from local residents and elected officials alike enraged by the prospect of a supersized LED advertising sign that would have joined two smaller signs already built at the corner of Bartow and Baychester avenues.

“Nowhere would you find something like this in the city of New York. Why are they putting it here?” said Assemblyman Michael Benedetto during the organized protest in front of the billboard’s property.

Towards the end of 2017, Baychester Retail III LLC, the property’s owner, installed a series of billboards on the recently developed site across from I-95.

Since the January protest, Councilman Andy King and others had negotiated with the developers to dim the billboards’ brightness.

However, the billboard that presented the most concern was only partially constructed, and could rise as high as 300 feet.

A bus load of Co-op City residents came to the BSA meeting and eloquently convinced its members to vote ‘down’ the project, the councilman said.

Baychester Retail’s lack of transparency with the Co-op City community had sparked outrage and protest by many of its residents and public officials.

While the corner property is technically not in Co-op City, it does border the complex.

The parcel has a high zoning because it sits on the former grounds of Freedomland, an amusement park that closed in 1964.

It’s C-7 zoning allows for billboards such as these to be legally built, even across from a residential area.

The only other area that has similar zoning is in Coney Island.

Community Board 10 district manager Matthew Cruz earlier attempts to urge Baychester Retail to meet with the community leadership were ignored.

However, in a defiant slap at the community, a representative from the company urged Cruz to encourage Co-op City residents to get used to the new signage.

“This isn’t just a community board issue, we’re rallying support on all sides,” said Cruz. “It’s an issue over respect,,” Cruz added.

“Many of us may not live directly in its view but it effects us all,” said Riverbay Board member Leslie Peterson. “It is representative of the type of disrespect you will have going forward,” she added.

The property’s currently-operational billboards had subjected the Mitchell-Lama residents to disruptive lighting that invaded the apartments in the evening, keeping some awake at night, while impacting their overall quality of life.

“I live in Building 21 which is about half a mile away from the sign and [the light] still gets in my home, even through my blinds,” said Michelle Sajous of Co-op City.

“These are homeowners, not just tenants. It’s a property owner’s neighborhood,” said Cruz.

The newest billboard is capable of running up to 54 different advertisements at a time 27 on each side.

Co-op City residents had expressed anger with one of operating billboard’s content.

An ad promoted Jack Daniel’s whiskey in front of a basketball was frequently run.

“This is nothing more than a pattern of ignorance. Our community is not for sale,” said Jerome Rice, president of the NAACP, Co-op City branch.

“We are promoting a peaceful community, this is not what we want children and teenagers to be seeing,” he added.

King and others negotiated the removal of the liquor advertisement as well.

“That ad shines right into Educational Park. It’s unacceptable that children and teenagers (are exposed to it),” said King.

King stressed that he wants to work with all parties on the issue.

“It’s not about hurting their business, it’s about coexisting together in the neighborhood,” said King.

Baychester Retail III LLC intends to to take their case to the State Supreme Court.

The property was formerly occupied by a gas station.

The new drive-in strip mall has one commercial tenant, a 7-Eleven convenience store.

King thanked all the residents that made a change come to fruition.

“The people’s participation allowed democracy to floruish,” said King.

Baychester Retail III LLC did not respond to the Bronx Times by press deadline.