Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A BZA engineered for LED

The Tennessean catches up on a story that's been brewing since the Board of Zoning Appeals reversed Zoning's disapproval of a request to install a brightly animated LED billboard:

The Metro Law Department sued in Davidson County Chancery Court on Tuesday to reverse the Board of Zoning Appeals’ ruling earlier this year that Richardson Outdoor Advertising can build a 50-foot-tall digital billboard to replace a standard board at Bell and Murfreesboro roads ....

The Metro Codes department initially denied a permit to Richardson Outdoor Advertising last spring. The denial relied on a legal interpretation that digital billboards must be at least 2,000 feet from other billboards.

The BZA ruled in June against the denial, but I could not find any media reports on the roll call. The Zoning minutes only tell that the vote was 4-2 but they are not transparent about how members voted. I called Zoning and finally received a list of names of the members who voted to overrule the zoning and allow LED signage:

  • David Harper
  • Chris Whitson
  • Mercedes Jones
  • Stacey Garrett

The Nashville Business Coalition used allowance for LED billboards as a litmus test for candidates 4 years ago. A sign industry influence broker and NBC member held a post-election fundraiser for the Mayor to pay back some of his campaign bills. A little later NBC darling Chris Whitson was endorsed by the Mayor and approved by the council for an open slot on the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Has the BZA been moving toward opening the door to LED billboards? To some it seems so. Earlier this year a neighborhood leader attended a BZA hearing on an applicant's attempt to make an appeal for an LED billboard. She came away with two primary impressions. First, the applicant appeared to her to be testing the waters to see if a LED appeal could pass. Second, she wondered if some BZA members might actually be intent on permitting LED appeals based on their leading questions directed at community opponents:

  • Why don't you want LED in residential area?
  • What make you think having LED billboard nearby will affect the property value?
  • The applicant is suggesting to lower the height and dim it at night, will you reconsider your opposition?

She wondered specifically about the propensities of David Ewing (voted against the appeal in June) and David Harper. Her perception proved right in at least Harper's case in the the latest appeal.

Whether or not Metro Law can turn this appeal around, the handwriting may be on the wall with regard  to the BZA's future intentions on LED billboards. The BZA does not appear to have been built to regulate or control Vegas-style signage dominating people's vistas. When a board is engineered to make it easier for industry to ignore community quality of life and do whatever they want, what choices are the rest of us left with?

1 comment:

  1. Mike as a follow up to the article, I have had numerous conversations with Mettro Legal. I have addressed the BZA at he public hearing. Below is an email I sent to Sue Cain of Metro Legal:

    From: "Ken Jakes"
    To: "sue cain"
    Sent: Friday, June 17, 2011 9:00:09 AM
    Subject: Your interpretation, I believe will stand the test when challenged.

    Sue, I feel the strong need to write you because I know the outcome of our entire City is at stake. The BZA APPROVED for a digital sign on non-conforming use on case # 2011-046 even though the Codes Department and your own Legal Department advisied them differently. I know you represent the BZA, however you also represent the Codes Department and the Council who create legislation in this city.

    I believe that this error will open a pandoras box for every non-conforming sign in this city to now be in the path for Digital Signs, which will have adverse effects on neighborhoods and communities across Davidson County. I ask that you represent your client the Codes Department and Metro Council and challenge this ruling in Chancery Court to overturn this wrong decision as stated by your own Department. Please let me know how you plan to proceed.

    Thank you for your service to our City,


    If the BZA is going to rule totally against the legal opinion and position of Metro Legal, then isn't it a waste of tax payer money to have a full time attorney present at the BZA to give legal opinion ? why furnish this expense for legal advise and then have the BZA rule as if they haven't even been given advise ?

    The BZA should be reminded that they should have limts when it comes to the law.

    Very Sincerely.

    Ken Jakes
    5920 Clarksville Pike
    Joelton Tn. 37080