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City, Billboard Company Reach Court Agreement Over Digital Signs
Indianapolis Business Journal
By Staff Writer
January 11, 2017

Billboard company GEFT Outdoor LLC and the city of Indianapolis have agreed to a court settlement that will allow the company to operate two local digital billboards while sparing the city any financial liability for a former sign ordinance that was found to be unconstitutional.

Judge Sarah Evans Barker issued an order stipulating terms of the agreement Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis.

Under the settlement, Indianapolis-based GEFT will be able to convert two traditional billboards near Interstate 70 on the city's east and west sides into digital signs, as long as it abides by certain conditions.

The city had previously denied GEFT's requests to convert the billboards, which are at 4305 W. Morris St. and 5780 E. 25th St.
GEFT agreed to abandon its claim for damages and attorneys' fees against the city. The company said in June that it expected those damages would amount to millions of dollars.

The agreement effectively ends a legal fight that began in October 2015 when GEFT sued the city over its sign ordinance. The company claimed that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision made the city's sign ordinance unconstitutional.

In its suit, GEFT asked that a judge bar the city from enforcing its ban on digital billboards, which it enacted in 2003. The suit also challenged other aspects of the sign ordinance, including its differing standards for "on premises" signs and "off premises signs" and "commercial" and "noncommercial" messages.

In the suit, GEFT also sought monetary damages based on the revenue it said it was losing because of the restrictions.

The city amended its sign ordinance in November 2015 to bring it into compliance with the Supreme Court ruling. GEFT filed amended complaints after that.

GEFT's lawsuit alleged Indianapolis violated the First Amendment with the original ordinance by having different standards for "on premises" and "off premises" signs. The on-premises signs, which advertise solely for the business in the same location as the sign, are allowed to have digital content. Off-premises signs, which advertise for a business or product located or made available elsewhere, are not allowed to have digital content.

On the same grounds, the suit objected to special regulations on signs that express noncommercial opinions or points of view, such as political, religious or ideological sentiment related to a public election.

In May, Barker ruled that GEFT was entitled to pursue monetary damages against the city over the original ordinance even though the sign laws had been amended. She said the original ordinance violated the First Amendment, primarily because it imposed different restrictions on commercial and noncommercial speech.

Barker, however, said the city's revised ordinance, which still prevented GEFT from converting its signs to digital, was constitutional. The company appealed that part of the decision, but will drop that appeal as part of the new agreement.

Under the agreement, GEFT will pay any permit fees and any expenses to convert the two billboards. It also agreed to a number of conditions for operations.

Among them:
- The company must include welcome language such as "Welcome to Indianapolis" on the non-digital part of the billboards and is allowed to add seven feet in height to the signs in order to do so.

- The digital billboard faces are allowed to display only static advertisements without any copy or messages that move or flash.

- If multiple advertisements are featured on the billboards, each ad must be displayed for periods of at least eight seconds at a time. The transition time between ads can't be more than two seconds.

- The brightness levels are stipulated for both nighttime and daytime use and are to be independently monitored to make sure they don't exceed limits.

- Goodwill advertising provided by city organizations shall be displayed on any unused digital display slot.

- Advertisements that promote tobacco, are lewd or lascivious in nature, or that contain profanity won't be allowed.

- The signs also shall provide feeds for emergency notifications, such as Amber Alerts, FBI Alerts or weather warnings.

The agreement also covers a third billboard owned by GEFT, at 700 W. Morris St.

The sign was categorized as an on-premises sign. GEFT received a variance before erecting the sign in 1997, which was required because the sign was too large for its type and zoning district, according to city ordinance.

GEFT sought to use the sign as an off-premises billboard and display noncommercial messages. It filed for a zoning variance with the city in 2015, but that request was denied.

Under the new agreement, GEFT will be able to use the sign for both off-premises and on-premises uses, with certain limitations.
RLUIPA Defense: Missouri Church Wins Digital Sign Appeal
Rocky Mountain Sign Law
By Brian J. Connolly
January 13, 2017

The Missouri Court of Appeals has ruled that the Kansas City, Missouri, Board of Adjustment abused its discretion in failing to grant a variance to Antioch Community Church (Church) to install digital components into its monument sign.  The Church argued that absent the variance it had practical difficulty in communicating its message.  In the alternative, the Church contended that the zoning code violated the First Amendment "by favoring less-protected commercial speech over more-protected non-commercial speech."  Under the code, schools and churches on lots 15 acres or more (or 10 acres or more if located on a major arterial road) are allowed to use digital signs.  Because the Church's lot was less than 10 acres, the code prohibited it from having a digital sign on its property.

The Church property is in a single-family residence zone next to commercial, urban residential, downtown, and industrial zones, all of which permit digital signs.  The Church is located on Antioch Road, a four-land roadway with about 14,000 travelers each day.  Since 1956, the Church has had a monument sign consisting of glass display cases surrounded by brick framework.  The sign included messages and information about Church activities that were manually  added using letters hung from cup hooks.  In 2010, at a cost of $11,000, the Church installed a digital sign, which replaced the display case, but no changes were made to the brick surround.  At this time, the Church was unaware that the Kansas City sign ordinance prohibited digital signs in residential zones (Section 88-445-06-A-4 of the code).  Accordingly, the Church did not seek a variance before installing the digital sign component.

About a year later, the City issued a notice of violation to the Church for installing the digital component without seeking a variance.  The Church then sought and was denied a variance.  Its local appeal of the Board's decision was also denied.  Following this local process, the Church sued in Clay County Circuit Court.  The Circuit Court entered judgment in favor of the Church and ordered the issuance of the variance, but did not address the Church's constitutional claim finding it to be moot.

The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the Circuit Court's decision that the Church was entitled to the variance.  First, the Court of Appeals rejected the Board's assertion that it had no authority to issue a variance as to the "type" of sign under the code.  Section 88-445-12 of the code states: "The Board of Zoning Adjustment may grant variances to the requirement for signs, except as to the type and number."  (emphasis added).  But a "digital sign" is a "component" of a sign (Section 88-810) - not a sign "type."  Rather, Section 88-445-12 defines "sign type" as:

A group or class of signs that are regulated, allowed, or not allowed in this code as a group or class.  Sign types include, but are not limited to, pole signs, monument signs, oversized monument signs, outdoor advertising signs, wall signs, projecting signs, roof signs, ornamental tower signs, electronic or digital or motorized signs, banner signs, and temporary signs.

As found by the Court of Appeals, the monument sign which had been there since 1956 was the "sign type," so the Board had authority to grant a variance to permit a digital component for a monument sign.

The Court of Appeals also found that the Church had proven practical difficulty warranting issuance of the variance: (a) the variation was not substantial; (b) the sign does not effect a substantial change to the character of the neighborhood; and (c) the Church lacks other means of advertising or communication, such as fliers or paid advertisement.  Like the Circuit Court, the Court of Appeals did not address the Church's claim that the code violated the First Amendment by favoring commercial speech above non-commercial speech.

This Smart Billboard Coughs if You Smoke Near It
By Ivana Kottasova  
January 13, 2017
When smokers walk by a certain billboard in Stockholm, something strange happens: The billboard coughs at them.
The innovative advertisement is paid for by a Swedish pharmacy chain that wants to encourage smokers to kick their smelly habit.
At first glance, the digital screen positioned outside a metro station shows only a simple photo of a model. But walk by with a lit cigarette and the man in the picture starts coughing, clearly bothered by the smoke.
The screen then changes again, offering various products sold by pharmacy chain Apotek Hjartat that can help smokers quit.
Akestam Holst, the agency behind the campaign, created the effect by attaching smoke detectors to the digital advertising screen. They chose a location where people often smoke -- Stockholm's Odenplan square -- and let the coughing begin.
The agency filmed the reactions of smokers -- some express surprise, others react with laughter. The resulting video has been posted online and is being shared widely.
"The purpose was to drive the conversation about this topic, documenting the reactions, encouraging people to live a healthy lifestyle," said Fredrik Kullberg, marketing director at Apotek Hjartat. "The reaction has been mostly really positive."
The timing of the campaign was deliberate. "We released this initiative that aims to help people with one of the most common New Year's resolutions -- quit smoking," said Ida Persson, spokeswoman for the agency.