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Court settlement won't invalidate digital billboard ban, city says

January 12, 2017

Despite a new court settlement that allows billboard company GEFT Outdoor LLC to operate two digital billboards in Indianapolis, the ruling doesn’t appear to open the floodgates to others hoping for the same outcome.

City officials say GEFT had a unique case that wouldn’t apply to the several other billboard companies that have been hoping to get past the city’s ban on digital billboards.

"The court’s order turns on state-law claims reviewing specific variance denials and has no effect beyond the specific signs at issue,” said Donald Morgan, the city’s chief litigation counsel.

The agreement between GEFT and the city, which will allow the company to convert two traditional billboards near Interstate 70 into digital signs, ends a legal fight between them that began in October 2015 when GEFT sued the city over its sign ordinance, claiming it to be unconstitutional. Judge Sarah Evans Barker issued an order stipulating terms of the settlement Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis.

The city amended its sign ordinance in November 2015 to bring it into compliance. Digital billboards are still banned.

“They sued under the old ordinance,” said Republican Council member Jeff Miller. “This does not invalidate our ordinance. No one else can sue and [get a digital] billboard for the same reasons. That was a big relief to me.”

The Department of Metropolitan Development is in the process of updating the sign ordinance. It is currently gathering feedback from Marion County residents.

“This was a narrowly focused victory [for GEFT],” Miller said. “But it still raises the question to some residents about how it impacts the ongoing discussions with the sign ordinance.”

Miller said he expects the sign ordinance to come through the City-County Council for approval sometime this year.

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