Court Upholds Zoning Restriction On Peace Sign

Zoning resolution prohibited apartment dweller from placing illuminated “Peace” sign in 17th floor window. In 2010 Brigitte Vosse placed an illuminated “Peace” sign in the window of her seventeenth-floor condo in The Ansonia at 2109 Broadway in the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  The Department of Buildings fined her $800 for violating a zoning ordinance restricting illuminated signs in her neighborhood at heights above forty feet.  Vosse argued that the City placed a content-based restriction on her speech, citing an exemption in the Zoning Resolution for flags, banners, or pennants of a civic, philanthropic, educational, or religious nature.  Vosse also argued even if content-neutral, the regulation was an unreasonable “time, place, and manner” restriction on her speech.

On August 1, 2013 U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff denied Vosse’s motion for summary judgment for lack of standing for a content-based discrimination challenge and granted the City’s motion to dismiss.  On January 12, 2015 the Second Circuit Court of Appeals granted Vosse’s petition for rehearing on her time, place, and manner argument and remanded the case back to the Southern District.  Vosse argued that the City failed to show that the restriction served a sufficiently real and significant governmental interest.  The City argued the prohibition on illuminated signs forty feet or more above curb level furthered the government’s interest in preserving neighborhood character and aesthetics.

On November 18, 2015 District Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York ruled for the City and dismissed the complaint with prejudice.  The judge ruled that the Zoning Resolution did not prohibit all signs forty feet or more above curb level, but allowed non-illuminated signs twelve square feet in size or less, resulting in a restriction narrowly tailored to achieve the City’s interest and allowing for adequate alternatives to communicate the same message.  Had Vosse’s sign been non-illuminated, the judge held, she could have displayed it in the same manner and not been in violation of the Resolution.

Vosse v. NYC, 12 Civ. 8004, NYLJ 1202743491138, at *1 (SDNY, Decided Nov. 18, 2015)

2 thoughts on “Court Upholds Zoning Restriction On Peace Sign

  1. Funny, I was just thinking today about how the City allowed the two enormous (30’w x 80’h?) digital screens on 6th avenue at 33rd Street? I’m pretty sure the Times Square special zoning for signs was restricted to Times Square. So how did Mr. Dolan transport those rules to his far- away property? Or did he just do it without DCP or DOB weighing in?

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