On December 22, 2023, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law S1931B/A7456A, banning digital billboards within 1,500 feet of Mitchell-Lama housing cooperatives, a program of affordable housing for moderate- and middle-income families.
The law, sponsored by Senator Jamaal Bailey and Assemblymember Michael Benedetto, will apply to certain housing cooperatives in New York State that have no fewer than ten thousand units in cities with a population of one million or more.
The law will go into effect on February 20, 2024, and any violations will result in a $1,000 penalty for first-time offenders and $5,000 for additional violations. The law additionally has a provision that allows local municipalities within the designated area (1,500 feet of Mitchell-Lama housing) to impose stricter restrictions than the state law. This means that local communities can ultimately exercise greater control of outdoor advertising for these sensitive populations.
The most recent focus on digital billboards in New York began in 2017, when a triple-sided billboard was erected in Co-op City, a cooperative housing development located in the Bronx. The sign garnered 77 complaints from residents about the bright light entering their homes and disrupting sleep, and the advertising of alcohol and cigarettes near local schools.
To make the situation worse, towering 200 feet above the parking lot where the billboard was located, stood a massive wind turbine which was used to provide energy for the sign. According to residents, the combination of this turbine and the unsightly billboard created a visual distraction and scenic blight that gave the community a bad name.
The turbine collapsed two years later in 2019, partially destroying the billboard and several cars in the parking lot below, effectively validating many of the residents’ safety concerns and complaints about the billboard and wind turbine. While the ordeal did not result in any injury nor death, the collapse of the turbine and subsequent destruction of the sign below sparked the beginning of Senator Bailey’s fight against digital billboards in the city.
With 15,372 residential units spread between 35 high-rises and 7 townhouse clusters, Co-op City is one such example of a Mitchell-Lama housing cooperative. Co-op City is the nation’s largest naturally occurring retirement community making it especially important to protect these populations from billboard blight and visual pollution. With only 20% of the land developed, residents of Co-op City enjoy access to green spaces and parks unlike anywhere else in the area.
Studies have shown that the light emitted from digital billboards, specifically in the Bronx, can be linked to health issues such as eye strain, disrupted sleep, headaches, and fatigue. Additionally, there exists a large racial and socioeconomic disparity of billboard blight and visual pollution.
Scenic America applauds the efforts of Senator Bailey and the citizens of Co-op City. This legislation is a testament to how communities can create effective change and work together to stop the proliferation of digital billboards and scenic blight. Their work should be seen as a model for change.