City wins in digital billboard bout

July 29, 2009
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Lamar digital billboardA Superior Court judge has sided with the Metropolitan Development Commission in a dispute over digital billboards. Outdoor advertising giant Lamar had sought a summary judgment so it could proceed with plans for two electronic billboards along East 46th Street near I-465 in Lawrence. A zoning board in Lawrence gave its approval for the signs, but opponents appealed to the MDC, which agreed to hear the case. That's when Lamar filed a lawsuit challenging the MDC's authority to potentially overturn its approvals. Marion County Superior Court Judge Theodore M. Sosin last week ruled that MDC indeed has the "ultimate administrative decision in cases that raise a substantial question of zoning policy." Marion County ordinances specifically ban advertising signs that display video or graphics. An MDC hearing on the Lawrence signs is scheduled for Sept. 16. The MDC last year overturned a zoning board approval for a digital billboard near Keystone at the Crossing, also for Lamar. More about that decision is here.
  • So in the end the concept of excluded cities in Marion County means nothing? I don't see where the Mayor or Council of Lawrence appoints any members of the MDC...

    If the citizens of Lawrence (or Speedway, or Beech Grove) want to light up their night sky with these things, why should Indianapolis stop them?
    • Okay, so Marion County outlawed them, but isn't there still one at Castleton Mall on 82nd Street? I believe that's still Marion County...not yet Hamilton...
    • The digital sign at Castleton mall was approved because it advertises for
      businesses at the mall. There has been some questions about the fact
      that some of the advertising is for businesses that don't have a
      physical presence at the mall (hence it's just a billboard).
    • As a sign professional who fights for clients wanting to invest in these type of products every day, especially in this day and age of everything Gen-Y, high tech, efficient and electronic, I still don't understand why codes and ordinances are so restrictive! I will be the first to say, there are applications where these signs are not appropriate. However, the fact is these Electronic Variable Message Signs (EVMS as the Marion County code reads) work and are a very powerful advertising and communication tool. Some areas have become more savvy and progressive by compromising and requiring some type of community service type messaging be included upon granting approval.

      Mark - you raise a GREAT question! Inconsistency in what is approved and what is not approved by the local authorities is also a challenge for users and sign companies.

      I just wish we were more progressive and the benefits were more clear to those granting approvals and denials. Good luck Lamar - I'm pulling for you!
    • Mark: I actually posted a while back on that sign at Castleton Square ...
    • Thank you, Judge Sosin. I think the electronic billboards on I-65 in Greenwood are the tackiest things ever and you cannot convince me that they are not distracting to drivers as I myself am distracted every time I drive by (which is why they are so sought-after and profitable). I'm glad to see them kept out of all of Marion County. And tced is correct, on-premise vs. off-premise advertising is the issue. I would love to see on-premise electronic signs banned as well, but as Signlady proves, the lobbying behind these things is tremendous. IMHO, it is more progressive to lobby for roadways free of extraneous and dangerous clutter.
    • Billboards are a disgusting type of advertising. Still static images on a digital billboard does not seem to be in violation of the way the law is worded or with the spirit of its intent.
    • Thundermutt, MDC members are appointed by the mayor of Indianapolis and the City-County Council, who are elected by everyone in the county, including Lawrence. The excluded cities are not completely autonomous.
    • Yes, THANK YOU, Judge Sosin.
    • Mr. Peanut, folks in the excluded cities do not get to vote for Mayor of Indianapolis. (That change was made some years back.)
    • Thundermutt: I'm sorry but that is not correct. The mayor of Indianapolis serves as the executive of both the city and county, and as such is elected by all voters in the county.

      IC 36-3-3-2
      Mayor as executive; election; qualifications; term of office
      Sec. 2. (a) A mayor, who is the executive of both the consolidated city and the county, shall be elected under IC 3-10-6 by the voters of the whole county.
    • Just a quick addition to relate this to the point I'm trying to make, namely that the MDC represents everyone in the county including all cities and towns.

      The nine-member commission has appointments made by the Mayor, the CCC, and the County Commissioners (an ex-officio body consisting of the Treasurer, Auditor, and Assessor). The Mayor and Commissioners are all elected county-wide, and all areas of the county have representation on the City-County Council.
    • Thank you all for the civics lesson.

      But average joe still would like to buy a beer on Sunday. I am tired of the ridicule from my out-of town guests.
    • Signlady, what you're offering is pollution. As wheat1 says, they are extremely distracting to drivers. So they're visual pollution as well as contributing to carbon pollution (or are they operated on solar electricity?!) as well as offering mental pollution: virtually nothing being offered via billboard advertising is anything I would remotely want in my life. As a point, when I see an electronic sign while driving, I look away: so please tell your clients that there are a lot more people out here who will boycott their advertisers than will applaud their parking a 40 foot tall piece of crap in their community.
    • Donna, the signs are already there. Their owners want to bring them into the 21st Century, and the Lawrence board of zoning appeals agreed.

      Let me make clear: personally, I agree that billboards are not a good visual influence on a community and I'd rather not see them. Likewise, inner-city liquor and check-cashing stores. But all are legal, and all are protected by the Indiana Constitution against ex-post-facto changes in zoning law that would try to outlaw them once legally established.

      The perverse economic impact of outlawing NEW billboards (which Marion County has done) is that the existing ones are even more valuable to their owners; regardless of your preference or mine, advertisers are still willing to pay to put their message up. They apparently have metrics that connect the ads to action.

      In short: this is a legal and economic problem, not a design and planning problem.
    • Not a design and planning problem, Thundermutt? Tell that to the people who would have live next to them.

      I, for one, am glad that our county officials have taken a stand to limit these obnoxious and ugly blights on our community. I have no sympathy for Signlady05's argument. Take your digital billboards somewhere else.
    • The focus on billboards may miss the broader issue. The word substantial is confusing. Has the Court effectively eliminated the Lawrence BZA? At a practical level, why would anyone bother filing for a variance in Lawrence? Or is it just that petitioners are required to file in Lawrence while remonstrators get a second bite at the apple via the County? We have not heard the last of this issue - and I do not mean billboards.
    • Are these signs solar powered? What a complete waste of energy
      if they aren't. Sometimes moving into the 21st Century is not a
      good thing.
    • Green v. not green... If they save the sign company money (which they must) they may be green. They could use significantly less power than the lights used on other billboards. They also do not need as much maintenance (i.e. big truck trips, massive printers running, and disposal of fabric that has been used). Be careful that argument could backfire.
    • BTW writing laws to protect some peoples aesthetic opinion is a slippery slope too.
    • Billboards = Old School. Guerrilla Marketing = Now.

      P.S. (I couldn't resist): Careful SE-Guy. You're starting to get political. Someone might hijack this posting. :)
    • If you want tacky electronic message signs, come to Evansville. Aside from Lamar's billboards, companies are tacking them up too. One, at the southwest corner of Green River and the Lloyd Expy is so bright at night you do not need street lights. (and no, i'm not being a nimby. come down here and see for yourself.)

      Off the top of my head:
      an east side Insurance company
      Schlotzsky's/Sprint (it's so small, it's pointless)
      Brinkers Jewlers

      There are at least 3 Lamar digital billboards.
    • Kind of like writing laws ageist gay marriage. Protect the opinion of some people, but not all people. Slippery slope indeed....

      I wonder how Carmel would feel if these billboard where going up along 31 from I-465 north to 190th street. mmmmm. Its OK over there, but not in my back yard...

      See how that works.
    • Oh, please. Bob, you could make that slippery slope argument about every law ever passed anywhere, at any time in human history. When has anyone claimed that a law should attempt to please everyone?

      Billboard bans are no different than any zoning ordinance that restricts a person from doing whatever they want with their property. This isn't some big earth-shattering change. I'm not sure what your point is with that Carmel comment. They obviously wouldn't like it, which is why they don't allow them either.
    • Thanks for the backup, Woody & SE-Guy. This is a battle royal between Lawrence and Downtown.

      The subject just happens to be billboards, but the issue is all about the powers of the excluded city and the layers of due process.

      In Lawrence's eyes, those of us in Marion County outside Lawrence have no more right to tell them how to make zoning (or other) decisions than we have to tell Carmel or Fishers the same thing. It's a straw man argument to say that Lawrence voters get a say in City-County policy...they are what, 40-50,000 out of almost 900,000? Where Lawrence voters truly get a say is in Lawrence.

      I've winced many times over the years at Lawrence's political antics, but hey, it's THEIR city. You know, all that stuff about self-determination...

      ps. I agree with SE-Guy about taking care in the green equation. Think of all the vinyl that won't have to be created to make billboard signs, and all the idling diesel fumes that won't be emitted by the crews on trucks replacing them, and all the mercury-vapor light bulbs that won't be burning to light them. It would take a forensic engineer-accountant to do the math on carbon footprint either way.
    • Thundermutt: All the courts did was reaffirm what state law says and what is written in the Rules of Procedure for the Lawrence BZA. Cases have been appealed from Lawrence BZA before and they will be again. Also, of course, all zonings are ultimately Ordinance enacted by the City-County Council after the MDC approves them. The excluded city councils have a right to first crack at the rezoning cases, but they do not decide whether or not they are approved.
    • Billboards ultimately are controlled at the state level. Lawrence and Indianapolis are legal entities created by the Indiana legislature and not by the people who pick up their mail there. For that matter so is the Metropolitan Development Commission (Indiana Code 36-7-4). If there is any such concept as excluded cities it exists because of the collective will of the Indiana legislature which can change with every election. The legislature could declare the Jackson Five to be the MDC if it so desired. Carmel and Fishers are also legal entities created by the State of Indiana and as Hoosiers we all have the right to tell them what to do. In fact we would be better served by dissolving both of them and creating a new entity that would involve the greater metropolitan area.

      Carmel delenda est.
    • This is a good ruling; I was recently in Gatlinburg, TN, where these billboards are apparently allowed, and found them to be extremely distracting while driving. Which, I suppose, is kind of the point; you are *supposed* to be distracted and pay attention to the billboard. Unfortunately, that's both dangerous and tacky.
    • Every reputable study finds that accident rates are no higher when LED billboards are installed along highways. But don't let facts get in the way of your subjective arguments.

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    1. Cramer agrees...says don't buy it and sell it if you own it! Their "pay to play" cost is this issue. As long as they charge customers, they never will attain the critical mass needed to be a successful on company...Jim Cramer quote.

    2. My responses to some of the comments would include the following: 1. Our offer which included the forgiveness of debt (this is an immediate forgiveness and is not "spread over many years")represents debt that due to a reduction of interest rates in the economy arguably represents consideration together with the cash component of our offer that exceeds the $2.1 million apparently offered by another party. 2. The previous $2.1 million cash offer that was turned down by the CRC would have netted the CRC substantially less than $2.1 million. As a result even in hindsight the CRC was wise in turning down that offer. 3. With regard to "concerned Carmelite's" discussion of the previous financing Pedcor gave up $16.5 million in City debt in addition to the conveyance of the garage (appraised at $13 million)in exchange for the $22.5 million cash and debt obligations. The local media never discussed the $16.5 million in debt that we gave up which would show that we gave $29.5 million in value for the $23.5 million. 4.Pedcor would have been much happier if Brian was still operating his Deli and only made this offer as we believe that we can redevelop the building into something that will be better for the City and City Center where both Pedcor the citizens of Carmel have a large investment. Bruce Cordingley, President, Pedcor

    3. I've been looking for news on Corner Bakery, too, but there doesn't seem to be any info out there. I prefer them over Panera and Paradise so can't wait to see where they'll be!

    4. WGN actually is two channels: 1. WGN Chicago, seen only in Chicago (and parts of Canada) - this station is one of the flagship CW affiliates. 2. WGN America - a nationwide cable channel that doesn't carry any CW programming, and doesn't have local affiliates. (In addition, as WGN is owned by Tribune, just like WTTV, WTTK, and WXIN, I can't imagine they would do anything to help WISH.) In Indianapolis, CW programming is already seen on WTTV 4 and WTTK 29, and when CBS takes over those stations' main channels, the CW will move to a sub channel, such as 4.2 or 4.3 and 29.2 or 29.3. TBS is only a cable channel these days and does not affiliate with local stations. WISH could move the MyNetwork affiliation from WNDY 23 to WISH 8, but I am beginning to think they may prefer to put together their own lineup of syndicated programming instead. While much of it would be "reruns" from broadcast or cable, that's pretty much what the MyNetwork does these days anyway. So since WISH has the choice, they may want to customize their lineup by choosing programs that they feel will garner better ratings in this market.

    5. The Pedcor debt is from the CRC paying ~$23M for the Pedcor's parking garage at City Center that is apprased at $13M. Why did we pay over the top money for a private businesses parking? What did we get out of it? Pedcor got free parking for their apartment and business tenants. Pedcor now gets another building for free that taxpayers have ~$3M tied up in. This is NOT a win win for taxpayers. It is just a win for Pedcor who contributes heavily to the Friends of Jim Brainard. The campaign reports are on the Hamilton County website. Finance Images&ARG2=/Brainard, Jim