Permit revoked for controversial Geist billboard

May 8, 2014
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It appears a controversial billboard in the Geist area will be coming down.

A city zoning board voted 4-0 Thursday to revoke the sign permit issued by the Metropolitan Development Commission late last year.

Billboard Geist 225pxA staff member for the Department of Metropolitan Development maintained that the sign conformed to zoning guidelines for the property.

But dozens of Geist residents who attended the meeting, and erupted loudly after the votes were cast, convinced the board otherwise.

They were represented by attorney Mary Solada of Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP.

“We beg you to apply what we think are the two basis to overturn this permit,” she told the board before the vote. “Let the chips fall where they may when you do that.”

The residents mainly argued that the billboard, at the intersection of 79th Street and Fall Creek Road, was erected too close to a stoplight and distracts drivers approaching the intersection.    

Jeff Lee, a Fishers resident who operates Geft Outdoor LLC, owns the billboard. He was unable to attend the meeting.

Attorney Mike Quinn spoke on his behalf. But Quinn said he was told the issue would be continued and was ill-prepared to defend his client.

“That said, knowing full well how the [DMD] works and the Department of Code Enforcement works, they were very careful about granting a permit for this sign at this location,” he told the board.

The 40-foot-tall sign went up in January and has space for three rotating messages that face 79th Street and Fall Creek Road and one message that faces westbound 79th Street.

The residents filed their appeal in February.

  • Billboards are an Eyesore
    Too bad Indianapolis is not as particular about billboard placement as Carmel. Indianapolis is too liberal about billboards. Cities that do not have billboards are a lot more attractive. They should not be allowed in Indianapolis.
    • Eyesores meet Eeyores
      Yeah, all those advertisements and billboards in Times Square and around NYC really make it a forgetable, unattractive experience.
      • really?
        So fall creek and 79th is just like time square??? The stupidity is astounding...
      • Lazy Residents
        I am wondering where the residents were when the owner of the sign applied for initial zoning and permits? Why did they not show up to make their points at that time? People are always ready to complain... but often too lazy to pay attention to begin with. If Mr. Lee ends up having to remove the sign, it will have cost this local resident tens of thousands of dollars. I wish upon the residents involved in this ridiculous issue-- equal negative financial impact to their family and business. Residents that don't pay attention to their local community to begin with should have no rights to complain.
        • Was a hearing required?
          My memory is that no hearing was required - this is a permitted use and no zoning relief was needed. They needed a permit, and the appropriate department is saying it was in compliance and they issued the permit appropriately. Therefore, I am concerned that the Zoning Board may not have voted based on the Ordinance, but on emotion. Proving billboards cause a safety hazard is difficult - in fact there is recent research that indicates otherwise. The question is, does the ordinance govern placement relative to intersections?
          • Assumptions
            You appear to be blaming the residents for not being proactive and being lazy, but issuing permits does not involve a meeting or public notice. Unless a resident is requesting Open Records from the office that issues them, how would they know this project was permitted?
          • Let them pay
            He followed the rules and has a permit. If they want it down then let them pay to take it down....and we will see how concerned they really are. I bet at this time next year it's still there.
          • Times Square
            Paul, I think tej's point was that rwh made a blanket statement that billboards should not be allowed in Indianapolis. Indy is a big place, and the term covers Downtown. I agree that Fall Creek & 79th is not like Times Square (not that anything in Indy is even close to Times Square). But the notion that billboards make a city unattractive is plainly false. Ban billboards in neighborhoods, that's one thing. Ban them city wide? That's the astounding stupidity.
          • Laws and Compensation
            Best I can tell, No Public Hearing was required, so the public was oblivious to what was going on. I'm thinking that the permit can be revoked without "just compensation" from the City, so "they" can do whatever, especially to keep "voters" happy. I'm confident this billboard did not cost "tens of thousands " but more in the neighborhood of $150,000.00. IF, the City revokes the permit, there will be a lawsuit which will include not only compensation for the contracted amount of the sign, cost to remove (probably $10,000. - $20,000.00), but also damages for lost income! IF, it was installed according to Zoning Regulations, it will be an infringement on the First Amendment, freedom of speech,unlawful prosecution, and just about anything else the defendants attorney can throw in there. Lastly, the whole "distraction" argument, won't hold water. Studies have been done and are a matter of record with DOT and Small Business Administration, which include texting, passenger engagement, eating and other categories that have resulted in vehicular accidents but nothing of record that shows signage causes accidents. There are plenty of distractions that cause fatalities, but it is just an "argument of convenience" to say signage causes accidents because it is a distraction. Lastly, blame the people that wrote the Zoning. Not the people that live by the rules or the ones that enforce them. DO NOT make the mistake of thinking you can simply outlaw billboards, that won't hold water either but you can work thru the process of allowing them in more appropriate areas. I for one. Glad to see the ill oars owner take advantage of the opportunity to erect this billboard. It'll be fine, you're right, after a year, no one will even remember except someone who doesn't have anything else better to do!
          • Carmel
            Carmel does it right--NO BILLBOARDS EVER ANYWHERE.
          • Other Signs
            How about all the other business signs near the intersection? CVS, McDonalds, even the little ones stapled to telephone poles there? How about Realtor signs near intersections......
          • Billboards diminish economic prosperity
            Check out page 6 of this report, which names Indianapolis as a city with no control over its billboards, and how this leads to diminished economic prosperity:
          • Stupidity
            Billboards are an eysore. Look at 96th St. between I-69 and Allisonville Rd., all the billboards are on the Marion County side. Times Square is a complete different space than our roadways and neighborhoods. Carmel has the best control on their billboards and signage. Indianapolis needs to follow. DC and Virginia have no billboards on their suburban expressways/parkways. its beautiful without all the clutter.
          • The issue at hand
            The issue here is not an emotional one, or if there should or shouldn't be billboards. On what basis this ruling was made? You can't just vote based on public opinion - the Zoning Ordinance gives all property owners and equitable owners rights. Either this billboard was permitted in full compliance with the Ordinance, or not. If the Zoning Board makes random decisions, they will have to pay to defend the ones that aren't legally justified on appeal, and they will lose. If anyone was present and knows the basis for the Board's ruling, beyond a vague claim of distraction, please post it. Distraction is not going to hold water on appeal.
            • Certainly NOT lazy
              Dear John. Do you think before you write? There was never any public notice required or provided to the "lazy residents" when this billboard was permitted, so the "lazy" residents did not know about it until it was erected in January. CVS was equally surprised. Was CVS "lazy" too? Perhaps YOU have been too "lazy" to research why this billboard should never have been permitted at this location, while the residents of this community whom you call "lazy" have worked tirelessly for two months, spending their own resources and money to research legal grounds for appeal and evidently proved their case. If Mr. Lee has to spend money to remove the billboard, perhaps he should have checked with the "lazy residents" first. Why didn't Mr. Lee put the billboard in HIS neighborhood of Fishers? It could be because this billboard would never have been allowed in Fishers. Finally, who are YOU to decide this is a "ridiculous issue?" Apparently, the BZA did not think it was so "ridiculous."
              • re: Don
                Don, I was present at the hearing yesterday for another case not related to this one. I heard the testimony and the questions the zoning commissioners asked. They were very careful on their decision and clarifying exactly what they were voting on and made it clear to the public that they were not voting on the aesthetic of a billboard, but it's validity to have been located where it was in relation to what the signage regulations allows. This includes but was not limited the sign regulations limitations for public safety and distractions.
                • Why shouldn't it have been permitted?
                  D. Swyder - why shouldn't the billboard have been permitted? It appears it is a permitted use, according to the ordinance (this is the reason no hearing was required). What specifically in the Ordinance was ignored or in the permit process was done in error? The Ordinance is what the Board has to go by.
                • Thank you PJ
                  Thank you for your reply. I find the argument of distraction interesting for permitted uses. Usually a permitted use is just that - permitted. The only time I have seen a subjective assessment of distraction and safety made is in evaluating a variance. In other words, you make an appeal for a variance, and an argument is made before the Board on the merits. Whether billboards are distracting is a debated issue, and the answer is not clear. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Personally, I have seen the pictures of the area of this billboard, and don't believe it should be there. But you need solid legal grounds to make it come down. Thanks for replying!
                  • Give me a break
                    I was at the hearing yesterday. The board did a great job on basing their vote on the facts and not on emotion. They asked their attorney and the zoning board representative many questions to confirm facts before making a decision. They did a great job gathering the facts first before voting. Addressing the many opinions everyone has regarding this billboard. I live in the area and can’t stand the billboards anywhere. Where this billboard is located you are coming down a large 14 degree S curve hill on 82nd. This billboard is directed right at that hill to catch the attention of the people driving. I have personally caught myself looking at the billboard before looking at the stoplight. The stoplight also blends in with the billboard and makes it harder to see. It is a distraction. Also the billboard does not meet the 300’ sit back from the center line on Fall Creek. All the neighborhood and signs round the area meet these requirements, but this does not. Whoever stated “how about the signs on telephone poles and builder signs”, I agree get dump them. I agree this will have an impact on Mr. Lee’s business, but what about the impact on the luxury homes overlooking this billboard. How many people who are selling their homes will have a buyer come in saying “Oh honey look are the beautiful view of the billboard. It is so nice how the view changes as it rotates”. This billboard should have had a hearing before it was put up, but zoning does not require a hearing. It is too bad because it could have been stopped before it had an effect on anyone. Lastly, if you do not live in the area or effected by this eyesore, keep your opinions to yourself. Also think to yourself what would you do with a big eyesore like this in your backyard?
                  • Ordinance
                    I looked over the Indianapolis Ordinance, and I didn't see the article that supports this ruling. For off-premises signs, the Ordinance lays out distances from right of way, distance from certain kinds of intersections and traffic signals, blocking sight triangles and view of traffic signs, etc. Maybe I missed something.
                  • Appeal Window
                    The bottom line is the billboard owner should have waited and constructed the billboard "AFTER" the appeal window had expired. If there was an appeal motioned, then wait "AFTER" the appeal decision. It was not very prudent to construct your billboard before all the checks and balances were in place. That is a very high risk reward and not very savvy. Why was the billboard owner in such a hurry to construct this sign? Very weird. Your goal is to mitigate risk.
                  • Billboard
                    Jim, There you have it. It REALLY has nothing to do with safety - these people don't want it there because it's ugly. The only way to have them remove it is to blame it on safety. Even the Facebook page has a photo shopped "ad" on the billboard that says "eyesore" on it. As someone who DOES live in the area....the McDonalds, CVS, Kroger and strip malls aren't an eyesore? You can handle those because these places are convenient to have close by but when it comes to something that doesn't benefit the residents - it's an eyesore. Maybe the wildlife and trees near your precious mansions think your homes are eyesores to them as well? It's just a billboard. Put your time, money and resources to a more worthy cause or move to Hamilton County. It's just a billboard!!!!
                  • Move
                    I did move to this area because there were no billboads. Move to billboard or pay for my loss of value and moving expenses.
                  • Specific basis for appeal
                    OK, there were two legal arguments. One was using Sec 734.100 and 734.202, to argue that the billboard blocks a traffic signal. The second I believe is 734-405.b.4, distance from an electronic sign to a protected district of 600'. On point one, you can't see in the video what the Zoning Board did, to determine if the billboard blocks a signal. On point two, a 20' violation of a 600' setback (3%) is likely to be found to be diminimus - meaning insignificant. A variance would likely be granted for that. Thus, this case in my opinion will hinge on whether the billboard blocks a traffic signal. This will very likely be appealed. Good luck to the residents. I wouldn't want it there either.
                  • Not in my back yard
                    I wonder if Mr. Lee the billboard owner will be as keen to relocate the billboard to just outside HIS neighborhood. I imagine he'll feel the same way as we in the Geist community feel about this eyesore.
                  • Long From Over
                    This ruling was purely political and not based on a legal stance related to the Ordinance. The Ordinance clearly covers all of these issues, it was reviewed multiple times by City Staff and deemed to be legally established. The Ordinance isn't based on one's personal beliefs (billboards or any other business for that matter, but this ruling was! Be very careful what you applaud. The next time it may be something that effects your home, family or bank account.
                    • Odd comments
                      I read several comments of "why didn't Lee put the billboard to his neighborhood in Fishers?" Perhaps his neighborhood does not host a VERY heavily-traveled road such as Binford. The object of billboard advertising is to get it seen by as many people as possible on a daily basis. I have driven that road a just a few times over the past couple months and to be honest, I never paid any attention to the billboard. Another strange comment - not meaning this to insult the poster but someone stated they moved to this area specifically because there were no billboards? I've heard of thousands of reasons people moved but that's a new one. If the sign is not found to have violated any ordinances then they should have to pay the owner to have it moved/removed and compensate for loss of income. You can't approve something, have them sink 100-200k in the project then go "oh we changed our minds... take it back down". If there was a problem with the location it should have been brought up at the time the permit was requested. Even if it IS an eyesore, it was a permit-granted eyesore. Lastly, any argument that this sign distracts drivers is very selective - there are a TON of business signs along this route, especially around the new Kroger center and throughout that area - also a high-traffic area... if signs were distracting anywhere they would be ones in areas such as this.
                    • Mistake in citation
                      I got the 600' wrong. An unspecified article evidently requires a 300' setback from a protected district of some kind of sign, and the Appellant's attorney argued it is 20' less. That still may be considered "de minimus" (<10% in some jurisdictions).
                    • Looking forward
                      If the group opposed has not already done so it's time to seek ordinance changes in the area before this happens again.
                    • That's Fine
                      DPH, you do not seem to understand what you are writing. The ordinance itself is not being challenged, it is the applicaiton of the permitting and zoning rules that were challenged in this particular case. So, your comments about City staff reviewing the Ordinance multiple times is irrelevant. A law can be perfectly valid, but the application of the law in a particular case may be illegal. This is what the appeal hinged on. The sign owner is certainly free to challenge the adverse zoning board ruling in court, but he has to prove that the zoning board misapplied the law to the facts of his case. He certainly could have waited until the appeal window was over before constructing the sign, but he didn't, so this is the risk he runs. The issue is simple, either the permit was validly issued or it was not. The zoning board decided it was not and revoked the permit. The owner is free to appeal this ruling in a court, and the court will review the zoning board's decision to determine if it was proper. This is system we have in place to govern development--it specifically allows for multiple levels of review and appeals. I am not sure what all the handwringing is about from some people who seem surprised about the zoning board's ruling. Sophisticated developers understand that getting a permit is never the end of the process, and they know there are often multiple steps left, expecially in the case of a contentious development project like this billboard.
                    • That intersection
                      That intersection is one of the most littered areas in the city, I for the life of me, can't understand why so many in the city think it's ok to throw litter out the window of their car! The I've gotten used to the sign, it's the garbage all over that irks me!

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