In late January, Peabody City Councilor Anne Manning-Martin was leaving her dentist’s office on Lowell Street when she got a phone call from fellow member Tom Gould.
“Have you seen the billboard?” he asked.
Manning-Martin had yet to see it, so she drove a few blocks down the road.
When she saw the 92-foot tall structure, called a monopole, towering over Lowell Street, she went home and immediately took to Facebook to convey her frustration, garnering strong reaction from other Peabody residents.
“It’s an absolute calamity,” Manning-Martin later said.
After months of legal dispute, the city of Peabody remains exasperated with the pole and its empty double-billboard, erected by advertising sign company Total Outdoor Corp. after a legal victory over the city.
“You can see it from Mars,” Manning-Martin said. “We were told that we wouldn’t be able to see it at all. We want it down.”
The pole cost between $200,000 and $300,000 to install, officials said.
Residents and local officials say the structure is ugly and should have been installed behind the Subway restaurant, not next to it, according to plans presented to an Essex Superior Court judge in August. In its current location, the billboard looms over the street; in the other spot it would have been less visible, they say.
“It’s a big eyesore,” said Dorothea Codinha, 70, who lives on Bourbon Street, which is across from the billboard. “It’s really going to depreciate the value of this area.”
The saga started last spring, when Total Outdoor Corp. presented a plan to the City Council to erect a monopole — a tall structure with a billboard perched on top — next to the Subway. The council rejected the plan in a 6-to-5 vote.
Total Outdoor appealed, and brought the issue to Superior Court in August. Judge Howard Whitehead ruled against the city, allowing the pole to be built. But Mayor Ted Bettencourt said the plan that the company submitted to the court during the trial located the pole behind the building.
The company installed the pole next to the building in January. In response, Peabody officials issued a cease-and-desist order to prevent further construction work or the placement of ads on the billboard. The city building inspector also issued a removal order requiring Total Outdoor to take the pole down.
During a hearing on March 18, the company asked Whitehead to allow the pole to remain where it was, saying a clerical error resulted in the wrong plan being submitted to the court in August. Total Outdoor also asked the judge to overturn both the city’s cease-and-desist order and the removal order.
The judge denied both requests and said there was no clerical error in the court’s decision on where to install the pole.
“My intention is to keep that cease-and-desist order that was brought by our building inspector,” Bettencourt said. “I want that to remain in effect and I’m thrilled that the judge allowed that to remain in effect.”
However, Total Outdoor’s lawyer, Michael Ford, said he will try again to persuade the court the company should be able to keep the pole where it stands. Ford said he couldn’t comment on when he plans to file a motion for relief in Superior Court, or why Total Outdoor presented different plans to the city and the court.
“Relief very well may be coming for Total Outdoor,” Ford said. “But I think it may be premature to make any predictions.”
In the meantime, Peabody residents, including Martin-Manning, who from the outset opposed the large monopole, remain frustrated.
“I think that Total Outdoor has played their last hand,” Manning-Martin said. “They’ve made mistakes in this and frankly I think its time for them to move on. I think they should pack up their monopole and put it somewhere where it’s welcomed.”