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Controversial Billboard Leads Senator to Seek Standards

Law Firm Agrees to Remove Ad From Cherry Lane Trellis

New York State Senator Craig M. Johnson (D-Nassau) wants the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to be more selective when it comes to what advertisements are erected on train trellises. After several residents contacted his office complaining about a billboard on a Carle Place overpass, Johnson called a July 29 press conference to announce he has proposed legislation that would require the MTA to develop standards that would draw a distinction between advertising that could be placed in residential districts and in other areas.

The legislation, said Johnson, would prevent massive commercial billboards from being hung off train trellises located in the middle of residential neighborhoods. The specific billboard in question is affixed to the Cherry Lane overpass just north of Old Country Road featuring an advertisement for the Celleno & Barnes law firm. According to the senator, the billboard distracts drivers, slows traffic and is out of sync with the character of its residential surroundings.

“This is one step away from putting a giant neon sign in the middle of this neighborhood,” Johnson said. “The MTA showed little regard for this community by making the rail bridge available for advertising and by allowing this garishly large billboard to be placed there. If they don’t want to be a good neighbor, then we have no choice but to require them to take us into account.”

Peter McDonnell, president of the Carle Place Civic Association, echoed the senator’s thoughts. In his opinion, the billboard is an example of how the MTA is “once again showing it has no regard for the neighborhoods that it touches. Cherry Lane is not Queens Boulevard and Carle Place is not New York City.”

Frank Moroney, who serves as North Hempstead Republican leader, agrees with the Democratic senator in that there needs to be better management over what signs are erected and where. “The next step is to address how and where the MTA rents advertising space,” he said. “If [they] are managed properly then our suburban character will be protected.”

Moroney, however, does not believe the issue was drastic enough to warrant a press conference. “A simple phone call was all that was needed. I made that call and found Celleno & Barnes to be cooperative,” said Moroney. “The result is that the sign is coming down.”

Darryl Ciambella, COO for Celleno & Barnes, confirmed to this newspaper that his firm has requested the sign come down. “It was a nice location and meant to help inform people of the opportunity to receive help through our services. It was not our intent to have the community upset with our advertising [and], as soon as we were told, we made arrangements to find an alternative location,” said Ciambella, who added that Titan Media, which handles the trestle billboards, was expected to remove and relocate the ad from the Cherry Lane trestle by week’s end. “I do not think that us moving [this billboard] will change the ability of Titan Media – or the MTA – of putting something else up there,” he said. “That is a whole other concern for the community.”

Johnson’s proposed legislation (S.6100) would direct the MTA to develop a set of guidelines in determining the size of advertisements on their property. The guidelines would include providing for maximum visibility along the MTA commuter rail district and their connecting roads and highways; preventing unreasonable distractions for motorists; and preserving, or improving, the aesthetic quality and natural beauty of properties and its surrounding areas. Presently, there are no such guidelines in place.

“These are commonsense standards,” Johnson said. “There needs to be a clear distinction between advertising that can go on a highway and advertising that can go in the hearts of our communities.”

In a statement, MTA spokesperson Jeremy Soffin told The Westbury Times that “the MTA has a responsibility to balance the need for ad revenue with our stewardship of public space, and we’re grateful to Senator Johnson for bringing the community’s concern to our attention.” Soffin added that the MTA is in “the process of reviewing our advertising policy and will remove [an] ad if the location is not consistent with appropriate guidelines.”