The decade-long billboard battle

billboardThe battle over a contentious billboard just got more litigious.

Lamar, a Louisiana-based outdoor advertising company, filed suit against Richmond to stop the city from trying to force the removal of the billboard it operates downtown on Mayo Island.

The case argues that removal of the sign cannot be enforced regardless of whether or not it conforms to zoning regulations, thanks to a law passed in 2008.

That law prevents localities from forcing the removal of a structure or building if the property owner has paid taxes on it for more than 15 years.

“If you look back 15 years in this particular case, Lamar paid taxes on that billboard. Therefore it may be a non-conforming billboard, but it is not illegal,” said Chip Dicks, the attorney for Lamar who works at the firm FutureLaw.

The legality of the sign, which was put up in 1977, has been contested for more than a decade. It towers more than 90 feet over the James River and has most recently advertised state lottery figures to motorist on Interstate 95.

The city first challenged the sign in 1999, when a zoning administrator issued a notice of violation to Alan and Wayne Shaia, who own the land below the billboard. The structure was over the 45-foot height limit.

What followed was 10 years of legal wrangling and lengthy negotiations that went nowhere, Dicks said.

“We had proposed we settle all this stuff and not litigate over this Mayo Island billboard,” Dicks said.

After a failed appeal of the 1999 violation, Lamar and the city under the Wilder administration entered negotiations that ultimately bore no fruit, Dicks said. A 2004 attempt to secure a special-use permit allowing the billboard also failed.

In 2006, the city attorney’s office filed a suit seeking to force removal of the billboard. That suit is pending.

Senior Assistant City Attorney Karl Holsten confirmed that the city will be responding to the recent filing. He declined to comment further.

Dicks said this battle is one worth fighting.

“It is the position of Lamar that this is a very valuable billboard asset and it is not easy to put up a new billboard,” Dicks said. The billboard is valued at about $1.5 million.

Dicks said that the 2008 law was passed at the urging of the Virginia Association of Realtors, whom he also represents, to protect homeowners in the event that localities destroy or lose the original building permits that allow certain structures such as porches or additions. The law protects them in the event that a locality seeks to declare such structures illegal and the resident cannot produce a copy of the permit to prove it was authorized.

“If the local government destroyed records and my house was built in 1950, I have no idea if the previous owners got proper permits or inspections, but I paid my taxes on that house and the previous owner paid taxes, and I would hope the city would not be able to come and make me take it down,” Dicks said.

Dicks said the city destroyed the original permits pertaining to the billboard in 1988.

As for what is next, Dicks said that if the latest case is decided in Lamar’s favor, the outcome of the pending case against them would be moot.

“Even if the judge ultimately ruled in the old case that the billboard is illegal, then under the new case an illegal billboard becomes legal and nonconforming at the end of 15 years of paying taxes, and we can show they have been paid,” Dicks said.

Whatever the outcome, one or both of the cases is likely to be appealed and make its way to the Virginia Supreme Court, Dicks said.

Either way, the billboard will likely continue to stand for years while everything gets worked out, much to the ire of those who have pushed for its removal.

Scenic Virginia has been opposed to the billboard for years. The executive director Leighton Powell said that she was not familiar with the new law but that it is a common tactic for billboard companies to seek favorable legislation at the state level when localities try to put roadblocks in their way.

“As long as they can drag this thing out, it makes money for them,” Powell said.

Powell said the sign has been illegal since it was erected in 1977 and that the city could go after the owners for illegal profits.

Powell said the billboard is an eyesore that hurts the image of the city: “If you are driving I-95 north, you have a beautiful skyline but right smack in the middle of it is a stupid illegal billboard.

billboardThe battle over a contentious billboard just got more litigious.

Lamar, a Louisiana-based outdoor advertising company, filed suit against Richmond to stop the city from trying to force the removal of the billboard it operates downtown on Mayo Island.

The case argues that removal of the sign cannot be enforced regardless of whether or not it conforms to zoning regulations, thanks to a law passed in 2008.

That law prevents localities from forcing the removal of a structure or building if the property owner has paid taxes on it for more than 15 years.

“If you look back 15 years in this particular case, Lamar paid taxes on that billboard. Therefore it may be a non-conforming billboard, but it is not illegal,” said Chip Dicks, the attorney for Lamar who works at the firm FutureLaw.

The legality of the sign, which was put up in 1977, has been contested for more than a decade. It towers more than 90 feet over the James River and has most recently advertised state lottery figures to motorist on Interstate 95.

The city first challenged the sign in 1999, when a zoning administrator issued a notice of violation to Alan and Wayne Shaia, who own the land below the billboard. The structure was over the 45-foot height limit.

What followed was 10 years of legal wrangling and lengthy negotiations that went nowhere, Dicks said.

“We had proposed we settle all this stuff and not litigate over this Mayo Island billboard,” Dicks said.

After a failed appeal of the 1999 violation, Lamar and the city under the Wilder administration entered negotiations that ultimately bore no fruit, Dicks said. A 2004 attempt to secure a special-use permit allowing the billboard also failed.

In 2006, the city attorney’s office filed a suit seeking to force removal of the billboard. That suit is pending.

Senior Assistant City Attorney Karl Holsten confirmed that the city will be responding to the recent filing. He declined to comment further.

Dicks said this battle is one worth fighting.

“It is the position of Lamar that this is a very valuable billboard asset and it is not easy to put up a new billboard,” Dicks said. The billboard is valued at about $1.5 million.

Dicks said that the 2008 law was passed at the urging of the Virginia Association of Realtors, whom he also represents, to protect homeowners in the event that localities destroy or lose the original building permits that allow certain structures such as porches or additions. The law protects them in the event that a locality seeks to declare such structures illegal and the resident cannot produce a copy of the permit to prove it was authorized.

“If the local government destroyed records and my house was built in 1950, I have no idea if the previous owners got proper permits or inspections, but I paid my taxes on that house and the previous owner paid taxes, and I would hope the city would not be able to come and make me take it down,” Dicks said.

Dicks said the city destroyed the original permits pertaining to the billboard in 1988.

As for what is next, Dicks said that if the latest case is decided in Lamar’s favor, the outcome of the pending case against them would be moot.

“Even if the judge ultimately ruled in the old case that the billboard is illegal, then under the new case an illegal billboard becomes legal and nonconforming at the end of 15 years of paying taxes, and we can show they have been paid,” Dicks said.

Whatever the outcome, one or both of the cases is likely to be appealed and make its way to the Virginia Supreme Court, Dicks said.

Either way, the billboard will likely continue to stand for years while everything gets worked out, much to the ire of those who have pushed for its removal.

Scenic Virginia has been opposed to the billboard for years. The executive director Leighton Powell said that she was not familiar with the new law but that it is a common tactic for billboard companies to seek favorable legislation at the state level when localities try to put roadblocks in their way.

“As long as they can drag this thing out, it makes money for them,” Powell said.

Powell said the sign has been illegal since it was erected in 1977 and that the city could go after the owners for illegal profits.

Powell said the billboard is an eyesore that hurts the image of the city: “If you are driving I-95 north, you have a beautiful skyline but right smack in the middle of it is a stupid illegal billboard.

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John M
John M
12 years ago

Typical city BS
They have been collecting money all these years, They approved the sign and watched it while it was built. Then they distroy their records. If they go after the sign company for profits are they prepared to return all taxes and fees that they collected over the years.
If they want it gone let them pay the 1.5 million (which would be crazy) but we have all seen the CITY do stupid things before

Brett
Brett
12 years ago

I agree that the city screwed this up but it would be a nice gesture for Lamar to take it down. Our town is littered with these things. This can’t be a struggling company, even it was worth that much money, I doubt their wallet would realize it was gone. What if a flood took it down, would they be allowed to rebuild? What about an angry mob of welders with torches?

Karl
Karl
12 years ago

The City needs to stop wasting taxpayers money on this issue, and let the billboard company keep the sign! What gives them the right to extinguish a legitimate business? After all….they approved the original building permit…..saw it being built, saw it after it was built decades ago….and then they destroyed their own records?!?! The City’s time on this issue could be better spent on things that matter to the citizens of Richmond….better roadways, more jobs, less crime, etc.

AH
AH
12 years ago

Its all in the eye of the beholder. I think great creative signage is one aspect of what makes the American landscape unique and attractve. I could care less bout Lamar’s business interest in particular. What I do find repulsive are claims from people claiming that it is not asthetically pleasing to them, so the court system should force the sign down. Do we have any freedoms left? Is the Bill of Rights still in effect? If the city really cared about the city, they’d open up a grand new exit off I95 smack into Manchester with lots more signs… Read more »

Armand B
Armand B
12 years ago

Those who are opposed can contact, lobby, annoy, picket the advertisers. If nobody can place an ad on the billboard without lots of negative outcry, then the business case for Lamar to keep it there is eroded. The only reason it is worth money to Lamar is that businesses want to use it. If you don’t like the billboard, start your pitchfork-waving by dropping a dime to Lady Luck.

Benjamin
Benjamin
12 years ago

The article states it clearly and simply. Courts for over a decade have sided with the City of Richmond and determined this billboard to be illegal, regardless of how attractive or blighting it might be. The only negligence on the part of the City is letting this drag on for more than a decade and not more aggressively forcing its removal consistent with the Court’s decision. It was naive and irresponsible for the Wilder administration to even consider “compromising” on something that is a clear violation of the law. Chip Dicks’ comparison to the recent legislation to protect homeowners is… Read more »

Michael Jones
Michael Jones
12 years ago

This is yet another Oregon Hill complaining about things they see from the Hill issue. Like the proposed Dominion building, the Mead Westvaco Building, VCU Issues, etc. etc. Oregon Hill is a mess. A dirty mess with a real need for it’s residents to focus on their own streets and stop worrying about this nonsense with everything they can see from the Hill. There are a few exceptions, but most of the Hill needs major attention from its residents. It would help if you’re not standing in the street in front of a trash-littered yard drinking beer at 10am also.… Read more »

Ross
Ross
12 years ago

No one seems to be considering that Lamar is being paid by a state supported entity to keep the billboard up! If no wanted to advertise on it, it wouldn’t be worth 1.5 mil.

Josh Smith
Josh Smith
12 years ago

Billboard property owners can sell their active billboard ground lease. Now instead of waiting for annual or monthly payments they can convert their paper into a lump sum payment.

Outdoor Equities

Hellon Heels
Hellon Heels
12 years ago

aren’t there bigger issues the city should be worried about that a stupid BB sign…how about spending this money on our public schools, roadways, citizen protection, and better infrastructure. This is RIDICULOUS and typical of poor city management to get involved in something that no-one but the money hungry officials care about!!!

Steve Johnson
Steve Johnson
12 years ago

Even though the city is wrong and the owner is right. He will Lose the have bigger plans for the Island he’s already lost they will (city will settle and give him money) and it will all go away. YOU can QUOTE me on that. PS if the island is private where are the owners? you never hear about them.