Phila. Billboard Agreement Undermines Residents’ Rights

October 25, 2011

Phila. Billboard Agreement Undermines Residents’ Rights

By Charles C. Sweedler

The Legal Intelligencer

Editor’s note: The author represents the plaintiffs in McConville v. City of Philadelphia.

A well-placed billboard can quickly earn back the cost of construction and land acquisition, and then become a reliable cash cow. Consequently, as City Council has noted in legislative findings, “there exist throughout every area of the City numerous illegally erected commercial outdoor advertising signs that negatively impact upon the general welfare of those neighborhoods.” (See Phila. Code § 9-602(e).)

Philadelphia law grants taxpayers the right to appear before the Zoning Board of Adjustment. (See Philadelphia Code § 14-1805; and the Commonwealth Court’s 1999 opinion in Society Created to Reduce Urban Blight v. Zoning Board of Adjustment.)

A taxpayer who entered his or her appearance before the ZBA may appeal an adverse ZBA decision to state court and, of course, defend an appeal of a favorable ZBA decision. (See the 2010 Commonwealth Court opinion in Callowhill Center Associates LLC v. Zoning Board of Adjustment.) Even if he or she did not appear before the ZBA, a taxpayer may appeal the decision to state court if he or she is “aggrieved,” generally because of proximity to the illegal billboard. (See 53 P.S. 13131.1.)