Outdoor advertising regulations upheld

New City regulations would substantially limit billboards near highways. Clear Channel, the owner of large billboards located near arterial highways, and Metro Fuel LLC, the owner of smaller illuminated advertising signs on building fronts and poles close to the street, sued the City, challenging its outdoor advertising restrictions. The companies claimed that the restrictions limiting the location and illumination of commercial billboards and smaller signs, as well as the strict permitting and registration procedures for existing outdoor signs, were unconstitutional and infringed on their commercial speech. They further claimed that the City enforced its regulations unevenly and that the regulatory scheme was full of exceptions. Metro Fuel specifically claimed that the City allowed panel advertising on street furniture, kiosks, and lampposts, while forbidding similar Metro Fuel panels attached to buildings and poles.

District Court Judge Paul Crotty detailed the history of outdoor advertising, concluding that companies had long ignored or failed to comply with City regulations. The companies had challenged enforcement efforts in court, waited until the City’s efforts at enforcement subsided, or waited for a new, less vigilant administration. Judge Crotty found that the companies’ efforts had paid off because of the sporadic enforcement and the City’s grandfathering of non-compliant signs.

Judge Crotty dismissed the companies’ complaints, ruling that the City’s restrictions were constitutional. The City had substantial interests in restricting outdoor advertising signs near highways and in protecting neighborhood aesthetics. The zoning regulations would advance those interests. With respect to Metro Fuel’s specific claims, the court ruled that advertising on street furniture and pay phones was located on the street edge of the sidewalk and, therefore, not covered by the Zoning Resolution’s advertising regulations. In contrast, Metro Fuel’s advertising on buildings and poles was covered by the Zoning Resolution.

Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc. v.New York City, 2009 WL 857068 (S.D.N.Y. March 31, 2009) (Crotty, J.).

CITYLAND Comment: Clear Channel and Metro Fuel have filed appeals. The City has entered into a stay with each company as to enforcement against current signage.

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