Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 28, 2012

S.Dakota Supreme Court Finds City Improperly Refused to Permit Digital Billboards

Lamar Advertising of South Dakota submitted an application for sign building permits to covert six traditional billboards to digital signs which was denied on the ground that it constituted an alteration of off-premises sign that would require conditional use permit approval under the applicable zoning code. Lamar appealed, noting that at least on 100 other occasions it had been granted a building permit for sign alterations without needing a conditional use permit and that the City was improperly attempting to regulate digital billboards. The circuit court denied Lamar’s petition for a writ and the Supreme Court of South Dakota reversed.

The Court held that with respect to five of the signs that were nonconforming, the City acted “in an irregular pursuit of its authority when it denied Lamar’s applications” because of a misplaced interpretation of the language in the Code.  Specifically at issue was language in two different sections of the Sign Code, which in one place referred to “this chapter,” and in another place referred to “this code.”  The City argued that “this Code” referred to the entire zoning code and “this chapter” only to the sign code. Lamar argued that they both referred to the sign code. The Court concluded that the since the City conceded that Lamar’s proposed alterations would bring the signs into compliance with the sign code, and therefore, an interpretation of the language of the code that would require conditional use permits was unreasonable. Lamar already had a conditional use permit for one of the six signs. This permit, for a double sided sign, contained no limitations on digital billboards.  In fact one face of the billboard was already digital and now Lamar wanted to make the second face digital.  Since the City did not previously limit digital faces on the billboard, the Court said they could not now impose such a condition when no such restriction appears in the code.

Lamar Advertising of South Dakota, Inc. v Zoning Board of Adjustment of the City of Rapid City, 822 N.W. 2d 861 (S.D. 10/31/2012).

The opinion can be accessed at:

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