Adams Advertising

Adams Outdoor Advertising has tangled with the city of Madison over its billboards, including this one on the Beltline. A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed Adams' lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the city's sign ordinance. Content Exchange

A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed Adams Outdoor Advertising’s challenge of Madison’s sign ordinance and its claims against the city.

In a 51-page decision, U.S. District Judge James Peterson said there is no constitutional problem with Madison’s sign ordinance.

“Whether the Capitol Square should look like Times Square is a decision that Madison city government is entitled to make,” he wrote.

“Adams alleged our entire sign ordinance was unconstitutional,” city attorney Michael May said after the ruling. “So, at least theoretically, if they won, Adams and anybody else could have put up billboards — including moving and digital billboards — wherever they wanted.

“The decision means Adams’ challenges to our sign ordinance are dismissed, and the ordinance can continue to operate as it has for years,” May said. “Madison generally has a ban on new billboards in the city, and this will keep that long-standing policy decision.”

Adams officials could not be reached for comment and it’s unclear if the company will appeal the decision.

Adams, which has gone to court in recent years against Madison, Fitchburg and Dane County over the placement of its billboards around the area, argued in the federal lawsuit that Madison’s ordinance is unconstitutional because it bans new advertising signs, such as billboards. It also asserted that the ordinance unconstitutionally imposes unreasonable restrictions on existing advertising signs in the city but doesn’t ban or impose the same restrictions on other types of signs in the city, such as real estate, political and noncommercial signs.

The federal case tracks back several years. Adams operates a billboard at 615 Forward Drive, on property owned by a local television station, and the station owners built a new facility that partially obstructed the billboard, the court decision says. In 2016, Adams sought to remove the sign and bank its net area through a city advertising sign bank program. Zoning administrator Matthew Tucker denied the application determining the billboard didn’t meet eligibility criteria. Adams didn’t appeal the decision to the city’s Urban Design Commission.

In April 2017, Adams submitted 26 applications to the city seeking to modify or replace existing billboards. In June 2017, Tucker denied 25 of the 26 permits, citing ordinance provisions the proposed modifications would violate. The next month, Adams filed the lawsuit in federal court.

May said he’s unsure about the cost of the litigation because the city’s attorneys were hired by the city’s insurer.

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