Category

News

President’s Message—Good News, Bad News

By | News, Newsletter | No Comments

The good news is that with the help of a major donor, we are completing a Michigan scenic road inventory, the first of its kind. These are roads that have already been designated scenic by some state or local agency. The work is being done by the Land Information Access Association (LIAA). It will help us target specific communities for our help in keeping designated scenic roads scenic. This targeting will help us make more efficient use of our resources. A next step will be to help identify roads that should be designated scenic, and identify ways to keep them scenic, free from the distraction and ugliness of billboards and other forms of roadside blight. A more detailed description of the project can be found elsewhere in this newsletter.

The bad news is that our longtime executive director Abby Dart has decided to retire in early 2018. We have begun the process to replace her with someone who will work with Abby to make a smooth transition in the day-to-day leadership. Those of you who know Abby know she will be sorely missed. If you know someone who should be considered to fill her position, please let me know. Might it be one of you?

City of Livonia receives Scenic Hero Award

By | News, Newsletter | No Comments

Award given to those who make a lasting contribution to preservation of scenic character

Each year, Scenic Michigan presents the Scenic Hero Award to individuals or organizations that make a significant and lasting contribution to preserving, protecting, and enhancing the scenic character of Michigan’s roads and communities. This year, Scenic Michigan is pleased to present our Scenic Hero Award to the City of Livonia and city attorney Mike Fisher for leading an outstanding and successful effort to prevent construction/addition of electronic/digital billboards in the City of Livonia—thus helping to prevent blight, driver distraction, and deterioration of the scenic qualities of Livonia.

The City of Livonia—with the leadership of Mike Fisher—have set an example for cities throughout Michigan who seek to improve both their visual appearance and quality of life for their residents. Scenic Michigan congratulates these scenic heroes for a job well done!

What’s in Your Sign Ordinance?

By | News, Newsletter | No Comments

Excerpt reprinted with permission from, “What’s In Your Sign Ordinance?”, which appeared in the November 2016 issue of Township Focus magazine, from the Michigan Townships Association.

Signs are protected by the constitutional right to free speech because they express a message—even if that message is only the time and date of an event. Most townships and municipalities in general have taken the right to free speech to mean that one message can’t be treated less favorably than another, regardless of the religious, political or other sentiment it conveys. Some violations are obvious—if your sign ordinance does not allow religious signs or bans certain political signs, that’s a clear First Amendment violation.

But last year, a U.S. Supreme Court decision took the concept of “content neutrality” much further. The crux of the decision is this: If you must read a sign in order to determine if it’s permitted, there is a serious question of whether your sign ordinance is not content-neutral. That means if your township has different regulations for real estate, political or garage sale signs, you could be in violation.

The decision In Gilbert, Ariz., a small church that met in elementary schools and other public buildings used temporary signs to advertise its services. The town’s sign ordinance did not allow outdoor signs without a permit but made an exception for 23 different types of signs. One of these types was temporary directional signs. The ordinance required that temporary directional signs only be displayed for certain amounts of time before and after an event and must include the date of an event. Church members were responsible for making sure the signs were posted on Saturday and then taken down on Sunday afternoon. However, when the church failed to take approved an ordinance that attempts to strike the difficult balance of preventing sign clutter while also regulating solely by size, location and physical characteristics

It’s new territory for the township—and for local governments throughout Michigan and the United States. Regulating signage is an important job for township planning and zoning officials, as well as the township board. Signs don’t just impact your township’s appearance—they can also affect safety. It’s up to your township to make sure signs are at a proper setback from the road and don’t distract drivers.

But because of the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision—Reed vs. Town of Gilbert, Ariz.—virtually every township must now reconsider how it accomplishes this job. A group of attorneys is currently working to create a model ordinance or guidelines for municipalities—including MTA Legal Counsel Catherine Kaufman, attorney at Bauckham, Sparks, Thall, Seeber & Kaufman, PC. The group hopes to release some kind of guidance by the end of the year. Until then, townships should take another look at their sign ordinance and ask for assistance from their attorney. “It’s important for townships to understand that they need to look at their sign regulations and try to identify if they are content neutral,” Kaufman said. “They should ask for assistance from their township attorney or from a municipal attorney. It’s likely they’re going to need some changes.” Keeping your township beautiful

Nonprofit organization Scenic Michigan has long advocated for the regulation of signs as a way to preserve a community’s appearance and character. Larry Keisling, a Scenic Michigan board member and former planning director for the City of Troy, believes that while signs are necessary, too many of them in one small area make a community look cluttered, whether it’s a downtown or a wooded countryside. If sign sizes and setbacks aren’t regulated, they can put drivers and pedestrians alike at risk. At the same time, businesses, nonprofits and anyone with an event to advertise count on signs to let the public know about their event or product. Signs are crucial in political campaigns. And some homeowners just like to place signs in their yard to convey a general message. Most townships have some kind of sign ordinance, which is generally done through the township’s zoning, though it’s also possible to regulate by police power ordinance. The goal in most cases is to allow people, businesses and organizations to advertise and exercise their right to free speech while also keeping their township from being covered in out-of-control signage. Most ordinances control signs by setting limits on their size, height, location and setback from the road. While this sounds simple, sign ordinances tend to be complicated. It’s a common practice to categorize temporary signs by their content and then regulate them differently.

What’s in your sign ordinance? “It’s important for townships to understand that they need to look at their sign regulations and try to identify if they are content neutral. It’s likely they’re going to need some changes.” —MTA Legal Counsel Catherine Kaufman, Attorney, Bauckham, Sparks, Thall, Seeber & Kaufman, PC

Scenic Michigan to work with Land Information Access Association to create scenic road map

By | News | No Comments

Scenic Michigan is a coalition of grassroots organizations, elected officials, and interested citizens working to preserve and enhance the scenic quality of Michigan’s roadways. One tool Scenic Michigan has historically supported is the designation of “scenic roads.”

However, despite the common application of this tool throughout the state, it remains unclear how roads receive such a designation, how many have received it, and where all of the roads are located. In response to a discussion with Scenic Michigan board member Jim Lagowski, the Land Information Access Association proposes to help clarify scenic road designations in Michigan. This proposal is based on the tasks specified in our conversation with Mr. Lagowski and the experience of LIAA staff.

We expect geographic information system (GIS) specialist Paul Riess will be LIAA’s prime professional engaged in the successful completion of this research and mapping effort. A geographer and cartographer, Paul has more than 20 years of experience in developing and managing spatial databases, designing GIS systems, and teaching GIS operations. He has extensive experience in the development of geographic data and mapping for city, township, and county master plans, recreation plans, corridor plans and natural resource management plans. A biogeographer, he holds a B.S. in Biology and Geography and an M.S. in Biology from Andrews University as well as an M.A. in Geography from Western Michigan University.

LIAA will research and aggregate all the different scenic road designations that currently exist in Michigan. Some initial research has found that there are a number of national, state and local roadway designations throughout Michigan. LIAA staff will work to get GIS data for each road designation, and research the process and criteria for the different designations.

Once the data is collected, LIAA will develop a comprehensive map of all the designated scenic roads in Michigan. The final map will be available in both a print and digital version.

Share Your Scenic City Photo Contest

By | News | No Comments

Scenic Michigan is holding a photo contest! Submit a picture of your attractive community on Scenic Michigan’s Facebook page or email to info@scenicmichigan.org by April 15, 2017. Please provide a brief description of the location and why you chose it. Look for locations that highlight the beauty or scenic character of your community the winning entrant will receive a copy of the beautiful pictorial “The Northwest Shore: Fine Art Photography of Michigan’s Northwest Lower Peninsula Shoreline.”

Pellston Couple Win Billboard Lawsuit

By | News | No Comments

Billboard owner ordered to remove it.

It took Elaine and Harold Sevener of Pellston nine months of diligent research and thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees, but they won their battle against the firm that has owned and maintained a double decker billboard on their property opposite Pellston Regional Airport for the past 15 years.

The billboard which Emmet County District Judge Richard May has ordered removed by June 30 is one of more than a dozen that line airport row on U.S. 31, the largest concentration of billboards on one stretch of roadway in the county….

… The Sevener case turned on whether the Seveners notified the billboard company of their intent to terminate the lease at least 60 days before its actual termination date. Under the terms of the lease, failure to do so would have automatically renewed the lease for another 15 years.

The updated lease which the Seveners were assigned when they purchased the property nine years ago stated that the 15 year term of the lease began with the construction date of the billboard structure.

Outdoor Advertising later stated that the structure was built in May 1988, but state law prohibits erection of a billboard without a permit, which Outdoor Advertising obtained in mid-August, 1988.

The Severners, backed by MDOT, argued that the term of the lease began Aug 12, 1988 and thus the deadline for them giving notice of intent to terminate was Aug 12, 2003, not Jan 15, 2003, as Outdoor Advertising claimed.

The difference was critical because the Seveners sent Outdoor Advertising letters on April 29 and May 4, 2003 advising them that they wanted the sign removed from their property….

…Elaine Sevener said that she believes May based his decision on a finding that Aug 15, 1998 was the actual start of the lease and she and her husband had therefore notified Outdoor Advertising of their intend in time to avoid automatic renewal of it.

Scenic Michigan Presents 2007 Hero Award to Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association

By | News | No Comments

_wsb_465x355_ScMi+003+vintners+assoc+award+4+webScenic Michigan has presented the 2007 Scenic Hero Award to the Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association. Accepting the award for the Association, was Adam Satchwell, President of the Leelanau Vintners Association and the winemaker for Shady Lane Cellars. The award is given to individuals or organizations that make a significant and lasting contribution to preserving and protecting the scenic character of Michigan’s roads and communities.

According to Scenic Michigan President Bethany Goodman, “The Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association are true scenic heroes for their commitment to not participate in billboard advertising to promote their wineries. The Association believes that to preserve the scenic beauty of the Leelanau Peninsula, residents and visitors to their wineries deserve a view from the road that is not marred by the blight of billboards. Instead, they have chosen to promote their world-class wineries through other means, such as an excellent website and many media publications. We commend and applaud their vision and hope the Vintners will set an example for businesses throughout Michigan.”

Scenic Michigan Presents 2007 Hero Award to Senator Tom George

By | News | No Comments

_wsb_321x354_Sc+Mi+008+sen+Tom+George+awardScenic Michigan presented the 2007 Scenic Hero Award to Senator Tom George (R-Kalamazoo) at the Capitol on September 12, 2007. The award is given to individuals or organizations that make a significant and lasting contribution to preserving and protecting the scenic character of Michigan’s roads and communities.

According to Scenic Michigan President Bethany Goodman, “Senator Tom George sponsored legislation, which was signed into law by Governor Granholm in December of 2006, that prohibits new billboards in Michigan and caps the numbers of billboards in Michigan at existing levels. Senator George is truly a Scenic Hero for his longstanding commitment to protect the view from the road. We commend Senator George for the enactment of this legislation which is so valuable to all who appreciate Michigan’s outstanding scenic beauty and seek to protect this beauty for future generations.”

Lamar’s First Punch to Elmira Township

By | News | No Comments

Issues: First Amendment free speech rights; Unlawful prior restraint on commercial speech; Township’s refusal to allow plaintiff to go forward with billboard construction along a state highway on the basis of later-enacted ordinances; Michigan’s Highway Advertising Act (MHAA); Whether plaintiff’s claims were ripe for review; Williamson County Reg’l Planning Comm’n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City

Court: U.S. District Court Eastern District of Michigan

Case Name: Lamar Adver. Co. v. Township of Elmira

e-Journal Number: 24114

Judge(s): Lawson

Since plaintiff satisfied all the requirements of the applicable laws in place when it applied for permission to erect the billboard at issue, defendant-township’s refusal to permit plaintiff to go forward with construction of the billboard along a state highway on the basis of the township’s subsequently enacted ordinance constituted an unlawful prior restraint of commercial speech.

Plaintiff, as part of its outdoor advertising business, builds billboards on locations it leases or owns and then charges advertisers a fee for displaying commercial and noncommercial messages on its billboards.

When plaintiff applied for permits to construct the billboard, only the Michigan Department of Transportation had jurisdiction to regulate the area where the billboard was to be located — the township had not yet enacted an ordinance under the MHAA.

The court concluded it was plain from the undisputed facts plaintiff’s application should have been granted under the rules in effect as of its application date and the township deprived plaintiff of its First Amendment rights by denying plaintiff a permit based on an improper interpretation of the zoning ordinance. The law in effect when plaintiff filed its applications did not disallow construction of a billboard at the location in question.

Plaintiff was granted summary judgment.

Read the Full Opinion Here