• Lamar Wins Sign Maintenance Case

    When a sign code permits you to maintain non-performing signs, you’re allowed to maintain non-performing signs.  That’s the takeaway from Lamar versus the city of Alliance, Ohio. Here are the facts.

    • In January 2016, Lamar acquired 18 non-conforming signs in Alliance, Ohio and began performing maintenance on the signs.

     

    • The city’s sign code said this about non conforming signs:  “A nonconforming sign shall immediately lose its legal nonconforming status, and shall be brought into conformance with this section or removed, when any of the following occurs…The sign face (except where otherwise permitted for changeable copy) or sign structure is altered, except where otherwise permitted for normal maintenance.”

     

    • The city issued a stop work order and directed Lamar to take the structures down because it had altered non-conforming signs.  The city contended the signs had been altered because the edges were changed from square to curved even though the sign dimensions were unchanged.  The city also alleged that welding was the equivalent of structural change.

     

    • Lamar asked for a permit from the zoning board of appeals to do the maintenance and was turned down an the matter went to court.

     

    • A lower court and the appeals court upheld Lamar’s contention that the work was normal maintenance and was not altering the non-conforming structures.  The courts found that the zoning board’s decision was unsupported by the evidence, arbitrary and capricious.  It also found that the city’s sign code had no clear definition of sign face, sign structure and normal maintenance.

     

    Insider can’t help quoting this portion of the ruling in which the Court of Appeals calls out the town (“Appellants”) for attempting to pull a fast one by citing only part of the relevant portion of the sign code in legal hearings:

    Further, appellants’ argument regarding this issue relies upon an erroneous citation of the Codified Ordinance of the City of Alliance, specifically Section 1134.09 (d)(ii) which states:

    “A nonconforming sign shall immediately lose its legal nonconforming status, and shall be brought into conformance with this section or removed, when any of the following occurs…The sign face (except where otherwise permitted for changeable copy) or sign structure is altered, except where otherwise permitted for normal maintenance.” Emphasis added.

    Appellants have omitted the language in bold repeatedly without explanation.  This error is found throughout the appellants’ case, from the language in the zoning inspectors initial letter to the brief filed with this court.  This omission in the zoning Inspector’s letter of June 29, 2016 was noted at the hearing…Despite highlighting the error at the hearing, the omission was included in appellants brief field with the trial court and it is repeated in its brief filed herein.

    Lamar will now proceed with a lawsuit seeking monetary damages including attorneys fees and lost income because the city’s order to take down the boards was an unjust taking.  Insider will be watching the case closely and with enjoyment.


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