Posted by: Patricia Salkin | August 3, 2018

SC Appeals Court Dismisses Appeal in Billboard Case Involving Nonconforming Changeable Sign as Moot

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

Christ Central Ministries (“CCM”), which owned property on the corner of Main Street and Elmwood Avenue in the City of Columbia, leased a portion of the property to Lamar Companies for the purpose of erecting and maintaining a fixed display billboard. In 2014, Lamar sought a permit to replace the existing billboard with a changeable copy billboard. The City issued the permit on March 13, 2014, which lasted six months, and was later extended until December 31, 2014. Also in 2014, CCM requested a permit from the City to replace the existing billboard with a changeable copy billboard. The City denied CCM’s request because “Currently, there is an active zoning/building permit … issued to Lamar Advertising, to convert said sign to a changeable copy.” CCM decided to sign a lease with a different sign company, and Lamar removed its billboard in August 2014. CCM again sought a permit to place a changeable copy billboard on the property in January, 2015, after the expiration of Lamar’s permit. The City denied CCM’s request noting “it is my understanding that the non-conforming sign at the above referenced location was removed by the sign owner on or about August 2, 2014. As such, this office would not be able to issue a permit, per § 17-404(e)(4), to replace a sign that is no longer existing.” CCM appealed the City’s decision to the Board of Zoning Appeals, which affirmed the City’s denial. CCM appealed the Board’s decision to the circuit court, which reversed the Board’s decision. The circuit court found, according to the plain language of the City’s ordinance, “no language in the relevant provision of the ordinance imposes a time period in which one must act to seek a permit, and strict construction of the ordinance does not grant this court authority to impose such a limitation.”

On appeal, the City contended that the circuit court erred in its interpretation of the city ordinance. Specifically, as a legal non-conforming sign, the sign at issue could not be replaced once it was removed. While the City initially requested the circuit court stay its order requiring the City to issue CCM the zoning permit, the circuit court denied that request. The City did not request this court stay the order pending the outcome of the appeal. Instead, the City issued CCM a permit to construct the billboard in question. Furthermore, CCM had since constructed the billboard at significant cost, and had collected rent from a third-party pursuant to a new lease. Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed as moot.

Christ Central Ministries v City of Columbia Board of Zoning Appeals, 2018 WL 3636578 (SC App. 8/1/2018)

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