A lingering dispute over an unbuilt billboard in Hanover County is headed for the state’s highest court.
EMAC LLC, which last year sued Hanover County for refusing to renew a permit for a large digital billboard to advertise the long-awaited Outlets at Richmond, won approval last month to have its appeal of the case heard before the Supreme Court of Virginia.
The appeal revives the case, which was tossed out by Hanover County Circuit Court in late November.
Behind EMAC is Ed McGeorge, owner of McGeorge’s Rolling Hill RV Supercenter near Ashland. He filed the lawsuit against the county and its Board of Supervisors last June. EMAC wants to erect a large LED sign on its 23 acres around the dealership and next to the future outlet mall site.
The billboard was to be one of two digital signs that would advertise the outlets and other surrounding attractions to drivers on Interstate 95, but they can’t go up until the 375,000-square-foot outlet mall is completed.
Despite the fact that the outlets have yet to break ground, the county approved conditional use permits for the two signs in 2012 – one going to EMAC for a sign on its land and the other to Craig Realty, the developer of the outlets.
The lack of construction on the outlets called for the county to renew the permits annually, which it did in 2013. EMAC’s beef with the county began in May 2014 when its permit renewal was denied, while Craig Realty’s was approved.
EMAC then sued, arguing unsuccessfully in Hanover Circuit Court that the county discriminated against it in favor of the developer, and it claimed the decision will cost it upwards of $7 million in lost advertising revenue from the sign.
The suit asked for an order to extend EMAC’s permit or for an award of $6.9 million in damages. The county argued that the decision to deny EMAC’s extension was a valid zoning decision.
A Hanover County Circuit Court judge dismissed EMAC’s case in late November before it could go to trial.
EMAC and its attorney petitioned the state Supreme Court for an appeal, which was granted May 28. The case will likely be heard later this year.
EMAC is represented in the case by LeClairRyan attorney Vernon Inge. He declined to comment on the case.
The county is represented by County Attorney Sterling Rives.
“The trial court found that the documents and exhibits admitted into the record of the case by the agreement of counsel demonstrated a rational basis for the board decision, which is the pertinent legal standard,” Rives said. “I believe the Supreme Court, upon review, will affirm the trial court’s decision.”
If EMAC prevails in the Supreme Court, the case will be reinstated for a trial in the lower court.
Meanwhile, the land where the outlets are to be built still sits idle, but there are some signs of progress on the project.
Craig Realty in April filed for a conditional use permit and a special exception permit to build a five-level parking garage for the outlets on adjacent land. That request is scheduled to go before the county planning commission on July 16 and then, if approved, on to the Board of Supervisors the following month.
A call to Craig Realty regarding the progress of the project was not returned by press time. The company told BizSense last year that it would begin construction when it had leases lined up for 50 percent of the retail space.
BizSense reporter Katie Demeria contributed to this report.
After travelling to other states, I always appreciate little things we take for granted in Virginia when I return. We don’t have seedy liquor stores on every corner. Our roads are in pretty good shape overall. And out state has done an outstanding job of limiting unnecessary billboards. I hope that tradition continues.
Ron, instead of “seedy liquor stores on every corner,” we have a government monopoly charging some of the highest prices in the country. I hope this tradition is abolished.
Oh yes, Grand Ye’ Ole Virginia, where there is a cop on every corner just ready to ticket everyone and everything. Someone must pay for the salaries of the County officials. Just wish more of the revenue went towards the schools. It’s all about the kids.