NY Appellate Court Upholds Constitutionality of NYC Off-Site Sign Regulations

From Albany Law School’s Law Of The Land blog, good news from New York:

The appellate division held, applying the four-part test in Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v Public Service Comm’n, 447 U.S. 557, 100 S. Ct. 2343 (1980), that the City of New York’s advertising regulations that restrict outdoor advertising situated within view of arterial highways and public parks and impose substantial penalties for violations do not violate plaintiff’s right to free speech under the New York State Constitution as the subject regulations directly advance the stated governmental interests of promoting traffic safety and preserving aesthetics, and are narrowly tailored to achieve those interests.  Furthermore, the Court held that the regulations do not violate the plaintiff’s right to equal protection under the State constitution, as the City has indicated that they intend to enforce the regulations against both governmental and nongovernmental entities. The court did note that in any event, the plaintiff is not similarly situated to the governmental and quasi-governmental entities for purposes of equal protection analysis. Lastly, with respect to penalties, the Court held that the penalty schedule is not discriminatory because outdoor advertising companies are subject to different fines than other advertising companies, and further that the penalties are based on the type of the entity and not on the content of the speech, for which rational basis review applies and not strict scrutiny. The court also noted that the penalties do not violate the Excessive Fines Clause of the State Constitution (art. I, sec. 5).

OTR Media Group v City of New York, 920 N.Y.S.2d 337 (1 Dept. 4/72011).

Other states are finding the go-to Free Speech argument of the signage industry ineffective against strong signage controls.  How can we convince the City of Philadelphia to have the courage to stand up to industry FUD by enacting and enforcing strong signage controls?

Billboard Giant Lamar’s Stock Down 20%

Despite a recovery in the advertising industry, leading billboard company Lamar’s stock is down 20% this year.

While there may be some increased demand for ad space in some markets in some locations, in many other markets there is an oversupply of space and the only way to fill that space is to offer deep discounts.  Because of this, static billboards are drawing an average of only $5,500 annually.

 

For more information about this development, please see the CBS Interactive Business Network’s article “Why the Billboard Business Sucks, Even Though It Shouldn’t“.

Main Line residents are fighting to keep billboards out of their townships, but is it a losing battle?

 

By Jim Waltzer

As Peggy Murr hunkered down in her assigned booth at Haverford Township Day in October 2009, the longtime local resident figured she’d simply collect a few signatures while taking in the parade and other festivities. Her clipboard filled with almost 600 names.

The object of the petitioners’ fervor: the prospect of billboards coming to their township. Not on their watch.

Due west at the Newtown Square Harvest Festival, there was a similar reaction from the citizenry. The numbers have since multiplied, as the community group No Billboards has broadcast its message in Springfield, Haverford, Marple and Newtown townships.

And the billboards remain at bay. So far.

Billboards: Looking for an off switch

Main Line Media News (mainlinemedianews.com)

Main Line Suburban Life: Opinion
Billboards: Looking for an off switch

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

By Henry Briggs

While you were enjoying the cold rain this Saturday I was in 80 degrees and sunny L.A., enjoying … the inside of a conference room. Well, not for the whole weekend. We also shot a YouTube video of one of what LA Weekly estimates are 4,000 illegal local billboards.

As a newly minted board member, I went a meeting of Scenic America (scenic.org), a nonprofit that grew out of Lyndon (and Ladybird) Johnson’s Highway Beautification Act. Remember those times? When idealism thrived on all sides of the political spectrum?

Since then the outdoor-advertising industry has grown exponentially, as has the nation’s cynicism. Of course linking the two directly would be unfair to politicians, other advertisers, major-league baseball, Wall Street…

 

Delco Article – March 30, 2011

Cartoon by Calvin Rankin, used by permission

 

They’ve won a billboard battle, but not the war

 

Opponents of billboards in selected parts of Delaware County shouldn’t pop those champagne corks just yet.

True, they saw their first victory March 24 when the Springfield Zoning Board voted 4-0 to deny an application from the Bartkowski Investment Group to install six 672-square-foot billboards along Baltimore Pike. Their decision came after 15 hearings and 23 months of testimony.

Boiled down, all those hearings and all that testimony is really about whose rights are being violated the most. Residents say the signs infringe on their communities as blight and eyesores, creating traffic problems and other safety issues, as well as generating declining property values.

Billboard owners say the townships are intentionally challenging them by writing ordinances that specifically keep billboards out of their towns. BIG representatives argued in the Springfield case that their applications for billboards was a “validity challenge to the township zoning code … written to insure a prohibition on billboards.” “What was crafted so well is actually the flaw in the ordinance and it is invalid and unconstitutional,” commented attorney Carl Primavera, representing BIG. Springfield Solicitor Jim Byrne countered, “The only rights violated are the constitutional rights of the residents of Springfield.”

Similar scenarios are playing out in zoning challenges in Haverford, Marple, Morton, Newtown and Concord.

Since part of a zoning board’s mission is to take into account how an application impacts the residents in its town, there is a chance that other zoning boards will also vote down the billboard applications.

But it doesn’t end there. Bartkowski will no doubt challenge the ruling of the local zoning boards in court and it is in court, historically, that these types of applications have been approved. Judges have ruled in the past that townships cannot pass ordinances that prohibit against a particular type of use, like installing billboards, because such ordinances discriminate.

This time, though, it could go differently. Communities, from grass roots citizens to township officials, are better organized and better funded as they prepare to fight against billboards on the legal premise that they endanger the health, safety and welfare of their communities. Recently, a federal judge ruled in a different case that such an argument was a legitimate consideration.

So residents may have won the first salvo and perhaps a crack has appeared in the billboard defense. But this issue isn’t resolved yet.

One thing is certain. Regardless of the outcome, the consequences will be felt for a long time to come.

Scenic Philadelphia and FDR Park v. Zoning Board of Philadelphia — 772 A.2d 1040

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania affirmed a Court of Common Pleas determination reversing the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment’s order granting Conrail variances to erect  outdoor advertising signs on its property adjacent to Interstate Route I-95 in South Philadelphia.

The primary issue here was whether substantial evidence supported the Board’s findings that Conrail would suffer unnecessary hardship if the variances were denied.

Noting that the burden of proof falls squarely on the party seeking a variance, the Court held that Conrail was unable to show unnecessary hardship because it could not show any unique physical circumstances or conditions justifying the variance.

Continue reading

Economics & the Visual Environment: Better for Business

Ugly is Bad for Business!

Things that uglify a place–such as billboards, litter, and graffiti–scare away customers. Uncontrolled billboards and unregulated on-premise signs overwhelm us with competing advertisements. Rather than being informative, “sign-clutter” distracts the consumer; and no message gets through clearly.

Across the country, municipal planners know that business districts thrive the most when steps are taken to preserve and enhance their character and appearance. And according to Edward T. McMahon, director of the American Greenways Program, “A good sign code is pro-business, since an attractive business district will attract more customers than an ugly one. Moreover, when signs are controlled, merchants do a better job of selling and at less cost.”

Strengthening the Economy by Protecting Our Environment

The states that do the most to protect their natural resources also wind up with the strongest economics and the best jobs.

–The Institute for Southern Studies

As a state, Pennsylvania is rich in natural beauty and cultural heritage. From rolling farmland, to historic battlefields, to acclaimed architecture, Pennsylvania has much to offer. Preserving these resources by protecting the scenic environment not only ensures that our state will remain beautiful, it also ensures that Pennsylvania’s economy will be strong.

Staff and Board

Board of Directors

Douglas Robbins
Chair Planner/Urban Designer
URS Corporation

Mary C. Tracy
Executive Director, Scenic Philadelphia

Stephanie Wall
People’s Emergency Shelter

James Wright
People’s Emergency Shelter

Ollie Cherniahivsky, A.I.A.
Architect/Urban Planner
Ollie Cherniahivsky & Associates

Amy Hillier, Ph.D
City & Regional Planning School of Design
University of Pennsylvania

 Rajesh Misra
Nationwide Funds Group

Ryan G. Brown
KPMG

Sarina Rose
Post Brothers Apartments

Richard Ryan
Artist and Landscape Architect

Staff

Mary Tracy
Executive Director
tracy@scenic.org

Phyllis Jones
Administrator
admin@pdjonesassociates.com

Carlie Eden
Paralegal
eden@scenic.org

Matthew Zapson
Intern – University of Pennsylvania

 

Scenic Philadelphia Phone: 215-731-1775

No Bees on the Inquirer

September 17, 2007
New York Times
By PRADNYA JOSHI

Since taking over The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News last year, Brian P. Tierney, chief executive of Philadelphia Media Holdings, has been encouraging his advertising department to be creative in its use of promotions.

Street’s Billboard Deal Paves the Way for Electronic Billboards in Philadelphia

Philadelphia, PA – Last August when Mayor John Street announced his administration’s secret settlement with three players in the outdoor advertising industry, SCRUB voiced concerns about the impact of carte-blanche billboard legalization that gives up $9 million dollars in licensing fees. Now, just a year later, the City is poised to allow ClearChannel to replace conventional billboards with high-tech, electronic billboards, granting yet another plum to the outdoor advertising industry at the expense of Philadelphia’s visual environment and driver safety.

Digital billboards to debut in city

Philadelphia Daily News, August 21, 2007
By CATHERINE LUCEY
luceyc@phillynews.com
215-854-4172

Digital billboards – which rotate through several static advertisements each minute – will make their debut in the Philadelphia area this week. Already the high-tech signs have critics.

Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings has installed four of the computer-controlled billboards in the city and four in the surrounding counties. Advocates say the boards benefit advertisers, allowing them to easily change their messages – touting a sale one day and a new product the next.

Video billboards coming this way

Philadelphia Inquirer, August 21, 2007

Police praise them. Conservationists and driver-safety groups oppose them.

By Joseph A. Slobodzian
Inquirer Staff Writer

One of ClearChannel’s digital billboards in the Cleveland area. The outdoor-advertising company said an engineer it hired studied traffic for 18 months before and after the billboards’ installation and found no link to highway accidents.

Praised by police, criticized by scenic conservationists and driver-safety groups, and hugely profitable for their owners, digital billboards are about to enter the Philadelphia area.

Neighbors hope to pull digital billboards

By William M. Welch, USA TODAY

LOS ANGELES — Mark Legan has enjoyed his quiet, leafy neighborhood for 12 years, until someone threw a switch and filled his nights with bright, colorful lights.

“When the sun goes down, you can’t ignore it,” he says, gesturing from his living room toward the giant television billboard that recently went up a half block away on Santa Monica Boulevard.

Ads in the digital age

The Northeast Times, September 6, 2007
By William KennyTimes Staff Writer

Sick of seeing “I hate Steven Singer” in giant bold letters on your way downtown every work day?

How about the litany of Miller Lite, Coors Light and Yuengling ads that loom over Interstate 95 mile after mile leading up to the South Philadelphia stadium exits?

Some relief, at least a form of it, may be on the way for motorists who view local highway billboards as more of a nuisance than an incentive to patronize the products or viewpoints that they purport.

The Felling of the Hoagie City Billboard

Philadelphia City Paper, September 12, 2007

The big billboard was everyone’s poster child for urban blight.

by Bruce Schimmel

The big billboard at 40th and Lancaster was everyone’s poster child for urban blight. Hiding the historic façade of the West Philadelphia Title and Trust Bank, it promoted sneakers and booze, and depressed the neighborhood for more than 50 years.

Giant ad on Inquirer building in doubt

September 12, 2007

Philadelphia Inquirer
By Patrick Kerkstra
Inquirer Staff Writer

A plan to temporarily drape the Inquirer-Daily News Building with a massive advertisement for the film Bee Movie was in doubt yesterday, after community groups denounced the effort, calling it “garish” and “shocking.”

The advertising needs approval before it can go up, and representatives from Philadelphia Media Holdings, which publishes The Inquirer and the Daily News, sought that permission yesterday morning from the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Building ad swatted. Why? Bee-cause

September 15, 2007

Philadelphia Daily News
By MARK McDONALD
mcdonam@phillynews.com
215-854-2646

To bee or not to bee?

That was the question.

Answer: Not.

Brian Tierney, chief executive officer of Philadelphia Media Holdings (PMH), which owns the Daily News, Inquirer and Philly.com, decided yesterday to kill plans to put a giant inflatable bee on the company’s North Broad Street headquarters.

The Logan and Callowhill neighborhood associations had opposed the promotion for the upcoming film “Bee Movie.” Earlier, the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment had postponed a decision on the company’s request for a variance to allow the promotion, which also included two large banner ads running down the side of the building. The promotion was to run for three weeks.

Financial Assistance

After getting approval from L&I, you can begin making your new sign a reality. To ease the financial strain, the Philadelphia Department of Commerce offers grants for up to 25% of the cost of new signage. Before you start construction of your sign, you can fill out an application for the Small Business Commercial Improvement Program.

To apply, include current color photographs of your business and a written estimate of the proposed work. Non-owner occupied businesses must include a letter from the owner providing consent for the construction. Once the application is approved by the Department of Commerce, you have six months to complete construction in order to be eligible for the partial rebate. Be sure to keep close track of your expenses by saving receipts and invoices; photocopies of your approved permits and photographs of the completed work are also required.

Some Community Development Corporations (CDCs) have their own facade improvement grant programs. If a CDC is involved in your corridor, call them to ask about any financial help they may offer to their merchants.

Design

Once you understand your zone and its regulations on signage, you can begin to think about your design within the context of permitted styles and sizes. We have also assembled a gallery of sign ideas to inspire you.

sassafrass_colorThink about color. An attractive, creative sign and coordinating facade colors will always get your storefront noticed. If you’re confused about color, try to make your selection from historic color collections. Many popular paint companies carry historic paint collections, including Benjamin Moore, Sherwin-Williams, MAB, and Duron. These rich, subtle hues that look great against brick and stonework. Some paint stores have designers on staff that will spend time with you selecting colors for your business, inside and out. Call your local paint store for availability.

greenhouse_materialsThink about materials. Sheet metal and plastics signs may be inexpensive, but what kind of message do they send to a potential customer? Rightly or wrongly, people make quick decisions based on what they see. Painted wood and metal signs have a timeless appeal.

 

caribou_placementproportion & placement. The Zoning Code sets the maximum square footage for signs in your zone, based on the frontage of the building. But, before going for the largest sign allowed, think about placement. Does your building have special architectural features? It’s best to have a sign that complements the look and proportions of the building’s original details, rather than hide the building’s beauty behind an enormous sign.

smith_contentThink about content.Remember, potential customers may just glance at your sign – don’t give them more information than they can take away in a second or two. For that reason, avoid filling your sign with visual clutter – phone number, fax number, brands of items carried, hours of operation. A good rule of thumb is to have 60% “negative space” (background) to 40% copy (words and logos). This creates a situation where your message will be readily seen and understood.

tailor_representThink about representation. How does your sign represent your business? Custom shaped signs immediately convey the essence of your business.

 

 

 

streetscapeThink about your neighbors. Your sign reflects back on the entire commercial corridor, and either adds to or detracts from the overall impression a shopper has of the street. An attractive storefront on a corridor of well-maintained, appealing shops attracts more customers for everyone.

Questions to ask your sign designer

It’s important that you work with a sign designer who can help you represent the essence of your business and your brand graphically – while at the same time, being mindful of the City’s rules and regulations on signage.

You’ll want to ask:

Have you done work in Philadelphia before?

Will you prepare “to scale” renderings of the sign and building for use in my application to L&I?

Do you have experience getting zoning and sign permits through the City?

Can you get the permit for me? Or do I need to get the permit for you? How do you like to work?

Are you licensed and insured?

Zoning

If you’re a merchant thinking about getting a new sign for your business, the first step is understanding the zoning of your property.

The Philadelphia Zoning Code addresses all aspects of land use, construction, rehabilitation and building improvements – including accessory signs (meaning signs relating to the business activity occurring on the premises) and facade improvements (meaning changes to the front of your building).

In order to install a sign that is considered legal in the City, you need both a Zoning Permit and a Building Permit.

In order to receive a Zoning Permit, a merchant must demonstrate to L&I that the proposed sign fits within the requirements and limitations as described in the Zoning Code

If the proposed sign does not fit within the stated guidelines of the Zoning Code, the application will be rejected. A merchant can then apply for a Variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment. Applying for a variance can be a lengthy and time consuming process, requiring your availability for hearings in Center City. You may also be asked to solicit input from the community regarding your proposed sign. Variances are best reserved for applicants who have a special burden in meeting the guidelines described in the Zoning Code.

We strongly recommend that you work with your designer in creating a design that fits within the Zoning Code for your property – it will save you time and money.

To find out your zoning code, check the City’s zoning map.

 

Supreme Court Hear Standing Case

3800cityavCommonwealth Court Hears Taxpayer Standing March 5 (Updated March 6, 2007)

On March 5th, 2007 at 1:00 pm, a Panel of Commonwealth Court judges held hearings for two cases denying the standing of taxpayers and communty groups. The Common Pleas Court had based its decisions for the two cases on the interpretation of a stealth amendment (Act 193) attached to an unrelated bill in 2004. Act 193 of 2004 was an attempt by friends of the billboard industry to remove Philadelphia’s taxpayer standing, the historic right of citizens and community groups to appeal decisions of the Zoning Board.

Scenic Phila v. Zoning Bd. of Phil: 417 N. 7th St Wall Wrap

Scenic Philadelphia, Mary Crawley Tracy, Old City Civic Association, and Kensington South Neighborhood Advisory Council V. The Zoning Board of Adjustment, the City of Philadelphia, Callowhill Center Associates and Metro Lights, LLC

The Commonwealth Court affirmed a trial court decision reversing the Board’s decision to grant a variance because the applicants did not suffer an undue hardship. Noting that the property would maintain 70 – 80% occupancy without the variance, the Court determined that the fact that the variance would allow the property owner to raise additional funds to pay for needed renovations does not meet the level of undue hardship.

In making this determination, the Court noted relied on the rule that financial hardship alone is not a sufficient basis for granting a variance; a variance will only be granted if they are able to show that property will be rendered valueless. Thus, property owners do not have a right to utilize land for their highest and best financial gain. The loss of rental income from disallowed outdoor advertising signs was not an unnecessary hardship, so the Trial Court was correct in overturning the Board’s decision to grant a variance.

Continue reading

Background on Taxpayer Standing

For over ten years, Scenic Philadelphia has worked with community groups and citizens to protect the long standing right of taxpayers to participate in zoning decisions. This includes standing to appeal decisions made by the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment. Scenic Philadelphia’s court victories in 1996 and 1999, guaranteed that any taxpayer can participate in a Philadelphia zoning case. This has helped neighborhoods throughout the city shape development in their communities and protects the visual environment and quality of life of Philadelphia. As a result of taxpayer standing in Philadelphia, Scenic Philadelphia and community groups have successfully challenged variances granted by the ZBA allowing billboards in prohibited areas.

Eight Sheet Billboards

eight_sheet_on_row_houseOne of Scenic Philadelphia’s most important victories has been the removal of 958 illegal billboards. For decades, these small billboards (called “eight sheets” in the advertising business) could be found bolted to the walls of corner stores, small businesses, and abandoned buildings all over Philadelphia. The company responsible for the signs never sought permits for the signs and refused to pay violation fees! Finally, because of Scenic Philadelphia’s effort and advocacy, all illegal eight-sheets were removed by February 2007.

New: With the help of L&I’s enforcement, property owners throughout Philadelphia are beginning to remove eight sheets from their building facades. View some before and after photographs here.

The smallest type of billboard is called an eight sheet, and is usually placed in areas where there are pedestrians and slow moving traffic. Eight sheets are placed on small poles or bolted directly on to the side of buildings. Because eight sheets are located around homes, schools, and playgrounds, there is concern about the influence they have on children and specific ethnic groups.

For additional eight sheet photographs, click here.

dcp_0095PNE Media’s Illegal Eight Sheets

Because eight sheets are easy to erect, they often have no permit and are illegal. However, the City of Philadelphia is currently in the process of getting hundreds of these signs removed. The City is focusing its actions on PNE Media, a billboard company that owns hundreds of illegal eight sheets throughout Philadelphia.

A list of these illegal eight sheets can be found here. It is searchable by both councilmanic district and zip code.

Contact information for PNE Media can be found in the contact billboard companies section of our website.
Press

Because of the City’s initiative, there has been a lot of recent press regarding eight sheet billboards. In March, The Inquirer wrote about the City’s work on determining the legality of the billboards. In July WB17 featured a story about eight sheets on their nightly news.

The Inquirer and Citypaper wrote stories about a hearing of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, in which the Board gave PNE Media 60 days to either remove or file variances for their 900+ eight sheet billboards.

200′ West of Schuylkill Expressway — 787 A.2d 1123 (Pa. Commw. 2001)

Scenic Philadelphia, Mary Cawley Tracy, David Cohen, Powelton Village Civic Association, Center City Civic Association and Jack Minnis v. Zoning Board of Adjustment, City of Philadelphia, Amtrak National Railroad Passenger Corp., and Interstate Outdoor Advertising; Appeal of: Amtrak National Railroad Passenger Corp. and Interstate Outdoor Advertising

Continue reading

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has denied Fox Chase Cancer Center’s “King’s Bench Appeal”

35A King’s Bench Appeal is a special request for the high court to accept jurisdiction over an appeal rather than having to go through the lower court appeal process. Fox Chase Cancer Center filed appeals to both the Supreme Court and the Commonwealth Court challenging the decision of Orphans’ Court Judge John Herron, denying a request to allow 19.4 acres of dedicated parkland to be used for private development. The Court ruled that under the Public Trust Doctrine, Burholme Park, must remain a park.

According to an article appearing in the Daily News a spokesman for Fox Chase stated that the administration is exploring options for expansion, including building within their own 14.5 acre campus. The Supreme Court’s denial for special jurisdiction does not impact Fox Chase Cancer Center’s earlier appeal filed to the Commonwealth Court. The Court has ordered attorneys representing Fox Chase to submit their brief with a copy of the reproduced record. Attorney Samuel C. Stretton, representing the neighbors and users of the Park, will submit a brief 30 days later.

Read Judge Herron’s Opinion

Read Judge Herron’s Ruling Granting Taxpayer Standing to Neighborhood Residents

Billboards on Newsstand Bill Voted Out of Committee: Passage Will Threaten Sign Laws All Over the City

Laws regulating outdoor advertising signs have enabled Scenic Philadelphia to help residents breathe new life into neighborhoods once blighted by the proliferation of billboards. These laws are under threat by Bill 090015, which was voted out of committee last Tuesday by Councilmembers DiCicco, Green, Jones, Greenlee, and Quinones-Sanchez.

Over 500,000 square feet of outdoor advertising signs, including 8-sheets, wall wraps, graffiti ad campaigns, and towering billboard structures do not exist in Philadelphia as a result of the existing outdoor advertising sign laws and the successful legal challenges brought by neighborhoods and SCRUB in leveraging these laws.