Pellston Couple Win Billboard Lawsuit

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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

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_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

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_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

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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

Sign Size Limitation Okay

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Issues:  Zoning; Art Van Furniture v. City of Kentwood; Muskegon Area Rental Ass’n v City of Muskegon; Sign-size limitation; Variance denial; Sign-size calculation method

Court:  Michigan Court of Appeals (Published)

Case Name: Norman Corp. v. City of E. Tawas

e-Journal Number: 24055

Judge(s): Schuette, Fitzgerald, and Bandstra

The trial court erred by reversing the East Tawas Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) decision denying plaintiffs a sign variance, holding defendant’s sign ordinance unconstitutional and authorizing plaintiffs to erect the sign for which the variance was requested.  The court held the defendant-city’s ordinance was constitutional and its sign-size limitation was valid.  Defendant’s planning commission denied plaintiffs’ sign-permit request because it found the proposed signs would exceed the number and size permitted under the city’s sign ordinance.  The ZBA denied the variance, holding plaintiffs’ problem was self-created.  The court further heldArt Van to be an incorrect statement of law and reversed its holding in lieu of Muskegon Area Rental Ass’n.  Like Art Van, this case presented a legislative maximum sign limitation that effectively distinguished between single- and multi-tenant buildings and the businesses they house.  The fact plaintiffs were treated differently then other businesses was not a predicate for finding the ordinance unconstitutional.  This was a legitimate government interest.  Limiting the size of signs to dissipate visual clutter was reasonably related to protecting the general welfare because visual clutter detracts from the community’s aesthetic value and may create dangerous distractions to passers-by.  Reversed in part and affirmed in part.

Sen. George Announces Legislation to Preserve Michigan’s Natural Beauty

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Senator Thomas George, R. 20th Dist., announced on December 5, 2003 legislation to preserve Michigan’s beautiful vistas. Senator George was joined by former Lt. Governor Dick Posthumus and former Attorney General Frank. Representatives from Michigan Township Association, Michigan Municipal League, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, and Scenic Michigan thanked Senator George for his farsighted concern for Michigan’s aesthetics.

“Few measures would have more impact on improving the aesthetic beauty of Michigan’s out-of-doors than reducing the clutter that billboards create in our open spaces,” Posthumus said.

Four states have banned the use of off-premise billboards. Maine, Hawaii, Vermont, and Alaska have chosen to maintain their landscapes and provide a more tourist and business friendly means of promoting services. Oregon and Rhode Island have placed a moratorium on new billboards and Vermont has shown an increase in tourism since the removal of all off-premise billboards.

“Part of the charm and attraction of Michigan is its scenic beauty,” George said. “We recognize that billboards provide important information to Michigan’s motorists and we do not wish to eliminate them. However, we have reached the saturation point.”

The new legislation would not eliminate billboard use but instead explore other effective means to help businesses advertise by creating:

A Billboard Advisory Council to define a best-practice approach for the billboard industry. It would consist of 12 members appointed by the governor for two-year terms.

A Billboard Cleanup Fund to help remove abandoned signs. It would be supported by renewal fee, which would be increased from $25 to $50 for billboards from 8 feet to 300 feet, and from $40 to $100 for signs larger than 300 feet, as of October 1, 2004.

A fifth logo – a low-cost alternative for advertising for tourist attractions and tourism/agriculture related businesses. Four logos – lodging, fuel, food, camping – exist now. The new logo would be administered by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

A moratorium on permits so no new billboard permits would be issued. Approximately 14,000 billboards have been erected in Michigan, and another 2,200 permits have been issued with no signs erected yet.

“During my long career, in which I traveled many hundred of thousands of miles around our beautiful state, it has only reinforced my long-held conviction that billboards do more damage to out landscape and vistas than any commercial or informational value they claim,” Kelley said. “At the very least Michigan should limit and control the proliferation of billboards.”

EPIC/MRA Statewide Survey

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Last fall, EPIC/MRA, a Lansing based survey research firm, conducted a survey with voters in Michigan about federal, state and local issues.

Voters were asked a variety of questions including their opinions concerning Michigan’s billboards. A majority of the respondents favored legislation that would reduce the number of new billboards located along Michigan highways and expressways.

Thinking about the number of billboards along major Michigan highways and expressways, generally speaking, do you feel there are too many, too few, or just about the right number of billboards?

  • 37% Too many
  • 2% Too few
  • 50% About the right number
  • 11% Undecided/don’t know

Between 1972 and the present day, the number of billboard signs along major Michigan highways and expressways has increased from 6,100 to about 14,000, and permits have been issued for several thousand more billboards that could be erected at any time. Knowing this, let me ask you again – do you feel there are too many, too few or just about the right number of billboards?

  • 53% Too many
  • 3% Too few
  • 34% About the right number
  • 10% Undecided/don’t know

Would you favor or oppose legislation that would ban any new billboards on Michigan highways and expressways, keeping in mind that the proposed legislation would no way affect existing billboard?

  • 38% Strongly favor
  • 23% Somewhat favor
  • 13% Somewhat oppose
  • 15% Strong oppose
  • 11% Undecided/don’t know

As you may know, current law allows logo signs at freeway interchanges to inform motorists of what gas, good, lodging and camping options are available at upcoming exits. Would you favor or oppose legislation that would allow tourist attractions to be included on these logo signs, thereby reducing the need for billboards to advertise tourist spots?

  • 47% Strongly favor
  • 29% Somewhat favor
  • 6% Somewhat oppose
  • 10% Strongly oppose
  • 9% Undecided/don’t know

Michigan State Senate Resolution

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A Resolution Commemorating Scenic Michigan Day, April 22, 2003

WHEREAS, it is with great respect for the natural beauty of our state and those who help preserve it that we commemorate April 22, 2003 as Scenic Michigan Day, recognizing the vital contributions that this organization has made toward improving and protecting the picturesque vistas which define this state.

WHEREAS, Scenic Michigan was founded in 1995 as a non-profit organization to preserve, protect, and enhance the scenic and aesthetic character of Michigan’s communities and roadsides. Scenic Michigan, an affiliate of Scenic America, helps citizens and elected officials guide their communities future.

WHEREAS, Scenic Michigan serves as an education resource to assist communities in the quest to preserve and enhance their distinctive character. Among the important contributions made by this statewide organization are the following:

  • Making Michigan roadways scenic
  • Protecting our communities and landscapes
  • Aligning “smart growth” with scenic growth

From their humble beginnings as a billboard control task force of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs in 1989, Scenic Michigan has grown to become an independent 501(c)(3) organization.

WHEREAS, Scenic Michigan’s efforts have resulted in measures that outlaw the destruction of trees or shrubs within a highway right-of-way, ban new construction of double-decker billboards, increase billboard permit fees, and promote the use of Tourist Oriented Direction Signs (TODS) and logo signs to efficiently promote businesses in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

WHEREAS, Scenic Michigan provides Michigan’s communities with tools that focus on conserving scenic roadsides, roadside vegetation, saving community identity, and protecting highway corridors; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED BY THE MICHIGAN SENATE, That we proudly commemorate Tuesday, April 22, 2003 as Scenic Michigan Day, and honor all those who have contributed to the significant accomplishments of this organization. We pay tribute to their past and ongoing efforts to preserve Michigan’s natural beauty for future generations; and be it further

RESOLVED, That a copy of this resolution be transmitted to Scenic Michigan as evidence of our esteem.

Sen. George Amendment Bans FIA Billboards

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News Release
Senator for the 20th District
State Capitol / Lansing, Michigan 48913
PH (517) 373.0793 / FAX (517) 373.5607

April 3, 2003
Contact: Sherry Sofia
(517) 373-0793

George Amendment Bans FIA Billboards

Reduces Wasteful Spending

Senator Tom George successfully inserted an amendment today into the Family Independence Agency budget, which would prohibit the agency from spending money on billboards. According to department records, the FIA has contracted with Adams Outdoor Advertising for over $872,000 worth of billboards. The billboards appear throughout the state and carry messages such as: “Helping with family matters because family matters,” and, “A child’s safety is everyone’s business.”

“The money could be better spent than on these feel good billboards,” George said. “Here we are faced with cutting funding for important services such as health care and education, while the state is putting up these useless billboards that don’t say anything.”

The amended bill has been reported out of subcommittee and will next be reviewed by the Appropriations Committee as a whole before being sent to the Senate for consideration.

ROHE—Group Offers Advice on Billboard Control

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Published in the Lansing State Journal
February 6, 2003

Michigan has much to do in reducing signage along roads

Time is precious in our hectic lives. Often, we find the most precious elements yield to more pressing concerns.

If a billboard were placed in the oldest section of Michigan State University’s campus, there would be an outrage. Every one of us would react to the insult to a precious place.

But when one more billboard clutters the roadside, we drive on by. Often, we can’t be bothered. If maintaining places worthy of our affection is still important, then Scenic Michigan’s mission is your mission.

Scenic Michigan, an affiliate of Scenic America, is a non-profit group in the business of preserving and enhancing the aesthetic character of Michigan’s communities and corridors.

We successfully backed a measure making it a felony to destroy trees or shrubs within a highway right-of-way. We have halted new construction of double-decker billboards. We have arranged for billboard permit fees to become more commensurate with administrative costs.

Scenic Michigan promotes the use of Logo Signs and Tourist Oriented Direction Signs (TODS). These signs along major highways provide helpful information to the traveling public without intrusive blight.

Scenic Michigan provides communities with tools to conserve scenic roadsides, roadside vegetation, community identity and tasteful highways. Billboard companies often look to the First Amendment in defending intrusive signs. For communities interested in regulating billboards, Scenic Michigan, with a grant from the Frey Foundation, has arranged for a team of lawyers and planners to develop: “Recommended Elements of a Sign Ordinance.” We freely provide this to municipalities for the asking.

This document enables municipalities to meaningfully make a statement to defend their aesthetic character before it is eclipsed by more “litter on a stick.”

Our Scenic Resource Inventory Guide provides communities with a cookbook recipe on how to implement a plan for a specific corridor.

If you would like more information on the “Scenic Resource Inventory Guide” or “Recommended Elements of a Sign Ordinance,” write to .

People interested in protecting community aesthetics are invited to attend Scenic Michigan’s Annual Conference on April 7 in Mount Pleasant.

Tourism goes hand in hand with respect for the place. We can treat our motoring tourists with a trip through the Yellow Pages on the road. Or, we can dignify their visit with respect for them and our land.

Scenic Michigan knows that billboard blight clashes with an economy for tourism. The 14,000 billboards now lining Michigan’s roadways intrude upon our landscape and devalue our greatest asset.

Alaska, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont are billboard free. They recognize the relationship between respect and tourism. When Vermont banished billboards, tourism increased by 50 percent. Let’s unite in respecting our fragile place.

Maintaining and enhancing the vistas, whether urban, rural, or vacation land, is just good business and good long term investment for the people of Michigan.

Deborah Rohe is president of Scenic Michigan