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Is D.C. getting its own Times Square?

Tuesday - 3/16/2010, 11:15am  ET

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An artist's rendering of what the new billboards would look like at the intersection of 7th and G Streets Northwest. (Photo Courtesy of Orange Barrel Media)
Adam Tuss, wtop.com

WASHINGTON -- How would you feel if a 40-foot tall electronic billboard suddenly went up outside your home?

Some residents in the bustling Gallery Place/Chinatown section of D.C. -- one of the most popular entertainment districts in the area -- could soon be dealing with that situation.

Orange Barrel Media, an advertising agency, is finalizing plans to attach two mammoth, 40-foot tall electronic signs to the building that houses Clyde's restaurant at the intersection of 7th and G Streets Northwest.

The billboards would blend in with the buzzing Verizon Center which is located next door, and also with Orange Barrel's three other electronic billboards at the corner of nearby 7th and H Streets in Northwest.

"I would say these billboards could be up within the next couple of months," Pete Scantland, president of Orange Barrel Media tells WTOP. "Meetings with the city are ongoing and we have spent the last year working with the residents in that area getting their endorsement."

In fact, Orange Barrel says it has secured the approval of 98 percent of the residents of the Gallery Place Resident Association -- the building to which the billboards would be attached. Orange Barrel also has secured the endorsement of the Chinatown Community Cultural Center, which says it has been using the existing electronic billboards to communicate its ongoing events and programming.

Yet there are some who don't want the added glitz and pageantry. The Web site stopthebillboard.org was started by local residents trying to put an end to this plan.

"Giant color video signs are not what anyone has in mind when they think of Washington, D.C. But unless we stop them, these huge, moving-picture billboards will make cherished parts of our beautiful city look more like Times Square," the site says.

Stopthebillboard.org claims the signs would violate existing building code and public space regulations. However, Orange Barrel says that's simply not the case.

"These signs fall under the Gallery Place signage legislation that was passed in 2004. The legislation allows video screens and other types of signage throughout the Gallery Place Project. Because it is the entertainment district of Washington, the city looked at this as an opportunity to build on this," says Scantland.

In addition to the large, vertical signs, Orange Barrel wants to set up six LCD screens mounted on columns on the ground level of 7th and H Streets.

"I personally don't want this billboard in my community," writes one commenter on stopthebillboard.org.

The possibility of these signs being installed was explained in the contract residents of Gallery Place signed before moving in.

"The billboards will not heavily obstruct views," says Scantland.

The audio feature for the new signage has been eliminated and Orange Barrel has agreed that the signs will not be operational between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m.

Orange Barrel plans to apply for the full permits in the coming weeks with the D.C. Office of Planning.

(Copyright 2010 by WTOP. All rights reserved.)