Posted by: Patricia Salkin | July 6, 2015

PA Appeals Court Upholds Issuance of a Permit for Conversion of Existing Sign to a Digital Sign

H.A. Steen Industries, Inc. d/b/a Steen Outdoor Advertising applied for and Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections (L & I) issued, as of right, a Permit allowing Steen to convert the sign face to a digital format. Callowhill Neighborhood Association, Michelle Liao, Leslie Stahl, John Struble, Peter Kendzierski, Gwynne Keathly, George Brooks, Chinese Christian Church and Chinatown Development Corporation (collectively “Objectors”) filed a petition for appeal challenging the issuance of the Permit for a number of reasons: the change to digital format did not comply with the Outdoor Advertising and Non–Accessory Advertising Controls of the Zoning Code; the format change was prohibited by the Special Sign Controls for Area Surrounding the Vine Street Parkway and Benjamin Franklin Bridge Approach of the Zoning Code because the sign is located on Vine Street; the change would have an adverse impact on surrounding properties resulting in a public nuisance; and the sign is not in compliance with the Federal Highway Beautification Act of 1965. They then appealed from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County upholding the decision of the Zoning Board of Adjustment of the City of Philadelphia.

Under a 2007 Consent Order, the City and Steen agreed that the sign was built in compliance with “all applicable Off–Premise Outdoor Advertising Sign provisions of the Philadelphia Zoning Code and all applicable City of Philadelphia laws and regulations at the time the sign was built and subsequently modified by Steen…and that the sign is lawful in all respects.” Having determined the sign’s legality, the court next determined that because the Permit was issued on the assumption that no “structural or electrical additions” were involved, and thus could be issued without requiring construction plans. The court also determined that the sign did not violate the Zoning Code’s lighting provisions, because the sign was specifically permitted by the Code in the subsection including “flashing signs, signs with intermittent illumination, or signs with mechanically or electronically changing messages”.

The Objectors next claimed that the issuance of the Permit violated the Federal Beautification Act; however, they did not specifically mention or present any evidence regarding how or why the conversion would violate the Pennsylvania Outdoor Advertising Act. Instead, they relied on an Arizona case, which the court declined to be bound by. Lastly, the court addressed the claim that the ZBA had the authority to hear Objectors’ public nuisance claims because the claims go to the welfare of the community. The court found that because a building permit had not yet been issued, the type of digital sign that was going to be installed has not yet been determined; therefore, there was no testimony or evidence regarding how bright the actual sign will be or that the brightness of the sign will be adverse during the daytime. Accordingly, the court affirmed the trial court’s holding and concluded that a remand for further hearings was not warranted because the record was complete before the ZBA.

Callowhill Neighborhood Assoc. v City of Philadelphia Board of Adjustment, 2015 WL 3759405 (PA Commwlth 6/17/2015)

The opinion can be accessed at:

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