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One of two new billboards across Interstate 880 in Newark is visible from Hughes Place in Fremont, Calif., on Thursday, May 2, 2013. Several longtime Fremont homeowners say the massive billboards are "eyesores" that dominate their sightlines and may lower their property values. What residents are most angry about was the lack of communication from Newark, said Bob Reading. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

FREMONT -- A newly installed 85-foot-high sign on the Newark side of Interstate 880 has raised the ire of Fremont officials, as well as residents living on the east side of the freeway.

But it appears that there is little they can do about it, because the towering sign, which promotes several car lots at the nearby Newark Auto Mall, complies with city and state regulations.

Bob Reading is a longtime resident of Fremont's 28 Palms neighborhood, which sits directly across the freeway, in the shadow of the sign.

Reading said the sign, which was installed last month next to NewPark Mall and I-880, near the intersection of Mowry School Road and John Muir Drive, is an "eyesore" that looms high above dozens of homes and backyards, damaging the area's quality of life.

"People who are visiting see the sign and say, 'Oh, God, what's that?'" said Reading, 73. "I believe our property values are diminished because of this."

Barbara Keenan, a neighborhood resident since 1967, said the "upscale look" that she and her close-knit neighbors spent decades maintaining in their cul-de-sac off Farwell Drive was immediately downgraded after the sign was installed. The Fremont residents are especially angry that Newark officials did not contact them before it was installed.

Keenan, 72, said she now refuses to shop at NewPark Mall or other Newark stores because she believes the city's officials have shown residents a lack of respect. "Why should I give them my tax money when they're going to treat us like this?" she said. "They're acting like, 'You're not our taxpayers, so we're going to do whatever we want.' I think that's very wrong."


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Terrence Grindall, Newark's community development director, said he sympathizes with the residents but added that the sign complies with city and state law.

Even with a height of 85 feet, the sign still is below the city's 100-foot height limit, Grindall said. In fact, it could have been even more eye-catching because it is approved for digital billboard uses, he said. But Nearon Enterprises, a commercial real estate company that owns the land on which both the Newark Auto Mall and the sign reside, has chosen to list the auto mall's companies on it -- a use that also complies with city regulations, he said.

In addition, he said that Newark officials followed city law in 2011, when they informed their own residents and businesses within 300 feet of the sign. Newark did not notify Fremont residents because they were not required to, Grindall said, but it did contact Fremont city officials.

Kelly Diekmann, Fremont's principal planner, wrote two letters -- the first in July 2011, and another last year -- telling Grindall that the sign's "overwhelming size" would "degrade the surrounding visual character." Diekmann also complained that the city did not intend to address the concerns of the project's "most likely impacted population," Fremont residents.

Despite Fremont's concerns, Newark went ahead and installed the Newark Auto Mall sign. But Grindall said the digital billboard signs are much lower -- one of them was reduced to a height of 45 feet -- to avoid negative impacts on the surrounding areas.

The sign -- along with a pair of digital billboards recently installed in Newark by Clear Channel Outdoor Inc. -- will add $120,000 of annual revenue to Newark's coffers, Grindall said.

"We had an option to go higher but we preferred to go lower it because we didn't want it to shine into the properties of businesses nearby and the homeowners across I-880 in Fremont," he said.

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.