July 5, 2015 Long's Park aerial (copy)

The lawn at Long's Park is filled with fireworks fans in this aerial photo taken on July 5, 2015. 

A rezoning proposal is under consideration in Lancaster city that, if approved, would allow a private company to install a digital billboard on leased land at the northwest edge of Long’s Park.

The idea has the full endorsement of the commission that oversees the park and the nonprofits that run activities there. They said the revenue from the lease is essential to keep the park financially sound.

“Whatever we can do to bring in some more funding for the park is critical,” said Rick Faulkner, a board member of the Long’s Park Amphitheater Foundation.

Moreover, under the lease Oaktree Outdoor Advertising would provide free time throughout its local billboard network for digital ads promoting park events, city events and public service announcements.

Named for Judge Henry Long and his daughter, Catherine, who bequeathed it to Lancaster, Long’s Park is owned by the city and overseen by the Long’s Park Commission. Its members include individuals representing the city, the Amphitheater Foundation, which runs the park’s summer music series, and Civitas, a nonprofit formerly known as the Sertoma Club.

The park’s main revenue sources are its art festival and Civitas’ annual chicken barbecue. Proceeds from both have ebbed of late, officials say.

Months of planning

The billboard has been under discussion for about a year. In April, the Long’s Park Commission reviewed proposals from three companies and chose Oaktree’s. It was far and away the best, commission member Gene Duncan said.

The city and Oaktree signed a lease this summer. The billboard location was chosen both to maximize visibility on Route 30 and to minimize its impact on the park. The design would be reviewed by the commission, and could include Long's Park branding. 

Oaktree has agreed to pay $65,000 a year, plus 20% of sign revenues. It will also provide $20,000 annually in free advertising to the city and the park.

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Company President Devon Wagner said it’s impossible to convert that to an amount of screen time, because rates vary significantly by location and time of day.

The park is zoned as “parks and open space,” but state and federal regulations require billboards overlooking primary highways such as Route 30 to be placed in land zoned commercial or industrial.

To meet that condition, a 100-foot-wide strip of the park would be rezoned. Technically, it would be considered an extension of the zone occupied by Park City Center, said attorney Claudia Shank, Oaktree’s counsel.

The situation is an unusual one, but the park’s financial predicament is real and rezoning is the only way the plan can move forward, said Chris Delfs, director of Community Planning and Economic Development.

This week, the Planning Commission recommended that the proposed rezoning move forward.

Planning Commission member Jon Lyons called the solution “creative” and said, “This is good for the city.”

The rezoning must be reviewed by county planners. The final step is approval by City Council. Assuming there are no delays, council’s vote could take place in about three months.