Billboard blight or billboard rights?

August 18, 2008
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Lamar BillboardUPDATE: The Metropolitan Development Commission overturned the billboard approval, and the city now is looking into whether the existing sign is legal.

The city's planning staff is challenging a Board of Zoning Appeals decision to allow an electronic billboard at 86th Street and River Road. The zoning board approved the Lamar Advertising request by a 3-2 vote, despite an explicit countywide ban on the signs borne of concerns about driver distraction. Lamar wants to replace the western-facing portion of the sign, which now rotates three ads, with a digital display that updates every 15 seconds.

The Metropolitan Development Commission is scheduled to consider the appeal at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. To earn a variance, Lamar has to show that the move would not be injurious to public health, that it would not adversely affect nearby property values and that strict application of zoning rules would result in "practical difficulties in the use of the property." Essentially, Lamar's hardship argument boils down to it wants an already profitable sign to be more profitable. They also have committed to no motion or flashing. "We ought to be able to have the right to do it," said local land-use attorney Thomas Michael Quinn, who represents Lamar. "All the surrounding counties (including Hamilton and Johnson) allow it." Lamar is expected to file suit if the MDC overturns the variance.
  • If these are the electronic billboards I am thinking of then they are actually pretty decent. I saw one the other day and you couldn't even tell it was digital until you saw the add change. It looked really nice. As long as there are no moving images and flashing objects (which they say there won't be) then digital billboards are perfectly appropriate. The ones that turn like blinds are probably more distracting and they had no problems getting approved.
  • My current example of a digital billboard is for Hamilton Towne Centre on I-69. It is my understanding that sign is to only advertise for businesses in HTC; however, every day I read an add for Hoosier Park & Casino. This brings up the main issue with these. MOST are approved with conditions that stictly limit the frequency of adds, the copy/text, etc. This is an enforcement nightmare and if these types of conditions are required for approval, they shouldn't be approved at all. Signs should not distract motorists from focusing on what is most important; The Road In Front of You. Now days with cell phones, text messaging, iPods, other motorists, children in the vehicle, etc, there is already far too much to distract us while driving. We don't need to be trying to read the next add too!
  • How are these signs that different from the display boards that are LED and change text fequents. The sign in front of North Central HS and Brebeuf Jesuit Prep School has messages scrolling, which would probably be equally distracting as an electronic billboard. These types of signs are all across Marion County; wouldn't an electronic billboard be the same thing?
  • Hey Cory, I have first hand knowledge that the electronic sign for HTC is allowed to have off premises advertising. I actually drove past the HTC sign several times this past weekend and I couldn't even tell you what was being advertised, so it wasn't distracting to me. However, I guess I could see how they could possibly be distracting to other motorist.
  • “I have never liked billboards. Billboards are for sloganeers. As a private person, I have a passion for landscape, and I have never seen one which was improved by a billboard. Where every prospect pleases, man is at his vilest when he erects a billboard. When I retire from Madison Avenue, I am going to start a secret society of masked vigilantes who will travel about the world on silent motor bicycles, chopping down billboards at the dark of the moon. How many juries will convict us when we are caught in these acts of beneficent citizenship?”

    - David Ogilvy
    Confessions of an Advertising Man, Atheneum, NY 1988
  • I think that I shall never see
    A billboard lovely as a tree
    Indeed, unless the billboards fall,
    I'll never aee a tree at all
    Ogden Nash, 1937
  • I don't mind billboards on interstates. I like to know how many miles to the next gas station, restaurant, hotel, etc. But there is no really good justification I've heard for taking billboards off the interstates and constructing them within the city limits. Those encroachments are just visual blight, marking where the bad/unrepresented neighborhoods are. Does the world really need another Pendleton Pike?

    So here, the tacky tri-vision billboard is there already (how did that happen?) and now they want to class it up? How about just taking the whole thing down and building up some good karma for the next billboard end-run? I guess that's so much to ask.

    I think the arguments that it should be OK because other counties, banks, schools, churches have pimped out their neighborhoods is the wrong approach. That is essentially arguing that two wrongs make a right, and that's a slippery slope.

    At least they look better than the tri-vision billboards.
  • My biggest issue with electronic is their brightness at night. They are very distracting. Almost moth to a flame like.
  • Ridiculous. There was no reason for the BZA to grant the variance in the first place. There is no practical difficulty. Billboards are visual blight and should be restricted as much as possible.
  • I agree all billboards are visual blight. I will looks so much better without billboards along the I-65/I-70 interstates especially at the north split. Billboards still clutter some of the downtown streets such as Illinois these look horrible. Certain cities do not allow billboards at all or just limited areas. Carmel along 96th St. does not have billboards only the Indianapolis side. Washington DC parkways and interstates do not have billboards and it is wonderful without the clutter. If allowed there should be restrictions placed on sizes, distances and formats so that they all are consistent.
  • So why was the ban imposed in the first place? This will be much worse than a typical billboard due to the light pollution, driver distractions, and wasteful energy use.
  • I am a resident of Greenwood and have viewed the new electronic bill board on I65 between Main Street and County Line Road exits. Being the age of 52 I revel in the high technology that is very impressive, but also agree with most of the other posts that these are nothing more than an imposing blight to our landscape. I for one hope that they are limited to the far outskirts along the interstates only.
  • Something to ponder. How many of you objecting to these digital displays of advertisement have at least one if not more large flat screens littering the landscape of your home with more advertisement than you'll ever see from this location. Distracting? From driving your vehicle? No, but from your family and household chores? Absolutely.
  • You know what, I agree. I also think all those flashy yellow and red cars are distracting. And all those lights from building signs, how am I supposed to keep focused on the road when the entire urban landscape is blighted with all these signs that business owners want to put up? They act like they own the place! I just hope we get all those signs down, and restrict car colors in Marion County to just Black, Grey, and Brown. And no more of those fancy, nice cars I might want to look at. Who do they think they are in their BMWs and Mercedes?

    And please! Can we get someone to actually care about all those productivity-enhancing gadgets people fool with in their car? We need to make sure those aren't accessible to the people who bought them. I SHOULD BE GUARANTEED SAFETY! The world should look just like my perfect, omnipotent vision. And if the other people don't like it? Well, I hear IMPD has the means to make them see otherwise....

    You anti-Billboard types need to go back to your cornfields. A city is a geographical area that has many hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of lots of land with different owners with different needs and different situations. Advertising is a service that almost all people consume, or there would be no market for billboards. And there just happens to be people willing to sell land to advertisers to erect billboards. And guess what, we have a common law principle in our courts called Coming to the Nuisance. It says that if a new use causes a reasonable nuisance to any adjoining prior use, then the prior use has the right to ask for an injunction against said new use. It would very well for hundreds of years in Britain, in the Colonies, and in pre-1920's America. It's a solution that requires the government initiate no force against innocent parties, and protects property rights. And it doesn't need to come up with new rights or new forms of pollution to justify it.

    You may not see a need for advertisements on bulletins within city limits, but you are not a business owner apparently. If I could advertise cost efficiently on a bulletin in a high traffic area, I would be all over it. Highway signs are good for making sure that travelers have knowledge of available amenities, but city signs are just as valuable for making known the services that are available in the area that every driver might not know about.
  • Tony. Finally, you do exist out there. Intelligence with an open mind towards others and their points of view or their needs. So much of what I read here is so blatantly blind in the ability to see reason. By the way, I find a vast majority of what I see out there as lacking any real thought from an aesthetic standpoint, but it is that and only that. The aesthetic standpoint. Even as a design professional, I judge my world by more than that. Anyone who cares at all would. In a complete and successful work there are hidden masses of implications, a veritable world which reveals itself to those whom it may concern-which means; to those who deserve it. Le Corbusier, A New World Space, 1948
  • Any new news on the 960 N. Meridian apartment proposal by Buckingham Properties? I would really like to see this come into fruition!
  • It's all about qualty of life Carmel, Fishers , Zionsville have no billboards at all. Marion County will loose a residence today to one or all of them. Marion County will loose a business to one or all of them today. Making a junk yard larger and brighter just means it's a larger junk yard.

    How can the stores in the area compete with a glowing sign 14h x 48w

    I just read where the Federal Highway Adminisration is studying their saftey.
  • Tony, one of the aspects of following common-law principles is that those principles change and evolve over time as circumstances change (and especially as technology evolves).

    It is clear (well, to me anyway) that a changeable internally-illuminated LED billboard is a different animal than a paper or vinyl billboard that is externally illuminated...just as a TV is a different animal than a picture or poster. The polity has an inherent right to define whether a new and different thing constitutes a nuisance and the circumstances under which such a determination applies. What you are witnessing is the messy process of sorting out the competing claims as law and policy are defined.

    A court must wait for the law or regulation to be made legislatively or administratively before adjudicating it; I have no doubt that this (or some other LED billboard action) will ultimately end up in court just as the Indianapolis case against Pinnacle did. Then, and only then, will your doctrine be judged applicable to this case. By a judge.

    In the meantime, we'll continue to argue about it here...
  • Consumption - can't get enough of it. The basic problem with our economic system is our overconsumption and underproduction. Digital billboards are a vivid reflection of the overconsumption ruining our economy and society.
  • Tony-

    You wouldn't happen to work for Lamar, would you?
  • Does anyone know the website to reference if you have a billboard question? Is this controlled by county or is it a statewide situation?
  • The 8-20-08 MDC vote to overturn the variance board's idiotic decision was 7 to 0.
  • There was an article in this morning's newspaper about this. Buried well down was a story about Lawrence's approach: the billboard companies got permission to put LED boards along I-465 if they removed one from Pendleton Pike. Now THAT is a creative solution.
  • Lamar's billboard in Lawrence that is proposed to be converted to a digital billboard was itself erected by variance, subject to two existing billboards being removed. That was in 1983 - been there, done that.
  • Go look at the LED in front of Lucas Stadium, if it's permissible downtown who cares about a billboard being LED!

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  1. why oh why does this state continue to elect these you wonder how much was graft out of the 3.8 billion?

  2. i too think this is a great idea. I think the vision and need is there as well. But also agree with Wendy that there may be better location in our city to fulfill this vision and help grow the sports of hockey and figure skating in Indy. Also to help further develop other parts of the city that seem often forgotten. Any of the other 6 townships out side of the three northernmost could benefit greatly from a facility and a vision like this. For a vision that sounds philanthropic, the location is appears more about the money. Would really like to see it elsewhere, but still wish the development the best of luck, as we can always use more ice in the city. As for the Ice growth when they return, if schedules can be coordinated with the Fuel, what could be better than to have high level hockey available to go see every weekend of the season? Good luck with the development and the return of the Ice.

  3. How many parking spaces do they have at Ironworks? Will residents have reserved spaces or will they have to troll for a space among the people that are there at Ruth Chris & Sangiovese?

  4. You do not get speeding ticket first time you speed and this is not first time Mr.Page has speed. One act should not define a man and this one act won't. He got off with a slap on the wrist. I agree with judge no person was injured by his actions. The state was robbed of money by paying too much rent for a building and that money could have been used for social services. The Page family maybe "generous" with their money but for most part all of it is dirty money that he obtained for sources that are not on the upright. Page is the kind of lawyer that gives lawyers a bad name. He paid off this judge like he has many other tine and walked away. Does he still have his license. I believe so. Hire him to get you confiscated drug money back. He will. It will cost you.

  5. I remain amazed at the level of expertise of the average Internet Television Executive. Obviously they have all the answers and know the business inside and out.