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Billboard zoning restrictions challenged

A developer in Allentown, Pennsylvania, is challenging the municipality's billboard zoning laws, responding to a recently announced move by a competitor to construct some billboards in a number of locations in town. At issue are digital billboards. Usually zoning boards control such issues and grant exceptions and variances from a city's written zoning rules. In the current controversy, hearings are being held by the city's zoning board, and the mayor is expected to testify at some point in September.

What sparked the whole controversy was the city signing a contractual agreement under which one of the developer's competitors would pay up to $400,000 annually in revenue to the city in exchange for the right to put billboards on city property. In a number of instances, the city's existing zoning laws expressly prohibits zoning at that particular location. What this clearly illustrates is that, when it comes to zoning, there are often no absolutes, and there may be many ways to obtain exceptions and variances. An experienced zoning law attorney can help explore such options.

In this case, the zoning law exempts proposals of many kinds from the zoning law if the city, for municipal purposes, approves it via a contract or lease. That exception can be taken advantage of via action by either the city council or the mayor. The developer is arguing that this type of exception is unconstitutional and provides an unfair competitive advantage to some businesses. The contract at issue was approved by a city planning commission, as well as the city council.

The exception in the law for municipal purposes, one commentator stated, seems broader than those in the laws of many cities, which more commonly ensure an exception for more traditional municipal functions, such as city buildings, fire stations or police facilities. A city spokesman asserted, however, that the billboards in question would display, public safety advisories and Amber Alerts, thus serving a public purpose, as well as other things.

LehighValleyLive.com, "Allentown mayor to testify in developer's challenge against billboard zoning" Colin McEvoy, Aug. 20, 2013

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