ATLANTIC CITY — A billboard company is suing the city and its Zoning Board on constitutional grounds, after the board denied a variance to build a double-sided, electronic sign 24 feet from homes, while city zoning requires a 500-foot buffer.
It is also suing Somers Point and Middle Township, alleging their ordinances restricting billboards are not constitutional.
“The city’s 500-foot residential buffer requirement for billboards effectively bans billboards in many areas ... particularly entrances to and exits from the city, where billboards would normally be most properly located,” said the lawsuit, filed by Justin D. Santagata of Cooper Levenson. “At the same time, the city has many larger billboards near or abutting residential districts throughout the city.”
Garden State Outdoor LLC sued Atlantic City on April 3, after the Zoning Board denied a conditional variance to erect a 55-foot digital ad board at the foot of the Albany Avenue bridge on a Sunoco fuel station lot near the entryway to the resort.
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At the same time, the Zoning Board has the application on its agenda for its Thursday meeting.
The property is in a “neighborhood commercial 2 district,” which requires a 500-foot distance to a residential area, Garden State said in its complaint.
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The billboard would be 24 feet from a residence, the complaint states.
City zoning also allows a maximum gross surface area for the billboard of 60 feet, and the proposed billboard has a surface area of 378 feet; and a maximum pole sign height of 30 feet, while 55 feet is proposed.
The city has not denied Garden State any constitutional rights, said attorney for the city Steven S. Glickman, in his response to the complaint.
He also said Garden State did not show that the billboard as proposed would not harm the city.
The city is seeking dismissal of the case, while Garden State wants the judge to reverse the Zoning Board’s denial and declare the 500-foot residential buffer for billboards unconstitutional.
In the Somers Point and Middle Township cases, Garden State is suing each municipality over its ordinance banning or effectively banning billboards.
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“The ordinance banning billboards states such a ban is justified under (case law) ... but in 1988 and 2016 the New Jersey Supreme Court held that a municipality could not simply ban billboards, as Somers Point has done,” Santagata wrote in that complaint filed in January.
In the Middle Township case, filed last year, Santagata said the township’s barring of billboards “constitutes an impermissible restriction on commercial forms of expression as well as non-commercial speech, and fails to create any opportunity for the development of outdoor advertising signs, contrary to the constitutional mandate.”
The company applied in May 2022, to build and operate a double-sided outdoor ad sign of 378 square feet, and 45 feet high, at 1410 Route 47 South, in Middle’s Town Center Zoning District.
It was denied in July, and Garden State sued in August.
Santagata is seeking a judge’s order to reverse Somers Point’s zoning board denial and ordering its ordinance unconstitutional. He is also seeking attorney’s fees and other costs under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act.
In the Middle case, he is seeking similar relief, but does not cite the New Jersey Civil Rights Act.
REPORTER: Michelle Brunetti Post
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