Billboard company sues Columbia over permit denial

Monday, July 21, 2014 | 7:27 a.m. CDT; updated 12:27 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2014

COLUMBIA — One of the nation's leading outdoor advertisers is suing the city of Columbia, claiming its refusal to allow the company to erect new billboards and alter two others violates a 1998 settlement involving billboards.

Lamar Advertising Co. contends in the lawsuit filed last month that the denial of the permits was "arbitrary, capricious and prohibited" and not allowed by the settlement agreement. The Louisiana-based company is seeking damages of $15,000 to $20,000 per month, The Columbia Daily Tribune reported.

The 1998 agreement ended a four-year legal battle between the city and outdoor advertisers Robinson Displays and Whiteco Metrocom over the city's rules for signs. The settlement included a "cap and replace" arrangement with Whiteco, in which the city agreed its sign ordinance would not apply to "rebuilding, relocation or replacement" of 42 existing signs in the city. Lamar acquired the signs in 1999.

The settlement also said applications for changes to Whiteco's stock would be subject to city ordinances in place at the time of the applications.

Building and Site Development Manager Shane Creech, who is also named in the lawsuit, said in a letter included in court documents that most of the permit applications were denied because the billboards would be located along highways, rather than on freeways and interstates, where the city is required to allow billboards.

City Counselor Nancy Thompson said granting the permits to Lamar would give the company a "superior right" over other outdoor advertisers and the company should have to follow the city's current regulations for billboards.

"We believe that they need to come into compliance with what the regulations are in the city code as it exists today," Thompson said.

William May, who represented the two companies in the previous case and is representing Lamar in this lawsuit, said the city's decision to deny the permits was "disheartening" given the terms of the agreement.

"I just cannot believe that they can take the position that they can just throw the settlement agreement out the window," said May, who is executive director of the Missouri Outdoor Advertising Association.

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Andy Schuette July 21, 2014 | 1:01 p.m.

This lawsuit is frivolous and needs to be thrown out. The agreement only pertains to billboards along I-70, and Lamar (the company that can't fill all of it's own billboards anyway - you see the majority of them with garish 'Ad Here' images instead of actual ads) wants to put these up along Stadium Blvd and a few other state highways in the city, not I-70. I hope the courts can see this and vindicate the city in this case.

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