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Press Release


Contact:

Matt Bach
Director of Media Relations
Michigan Municipal League
(734) 669-6317; C: (810) 874-1073
mbach@mml.org; www.mml.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 30, 2016

Livonia Can Continue to Manage Billboards, Court Rules

Court of Appeals Decision is Victory for All Michigan Communities

 

A recent Michigan Court of Appeals decision is a major victory for Michigan communities and their ability to regulate and ban billboards.

In the case—International Outdoor v City of Livonia—the Court of Appeals on June 14, 2016 upheld a Wayne County Circuit Court ruling that the “plaintiff failed to establish … (that) there is a demonstrated public need for billboards within (Livonia’s) boundaries.”

Scenic Michigan, the Michigan Municipal League, the Michigan Townships Association (MTA) and the Public Corporation of Law Section (PCLS) of the State Bar of Michigan filed a joint amicus brief in support of the City of Livonia in the case.

Abby Dart, executive director for Scenic Michigan, praised the court’s decision explaining it’s not only good for Livonia, but for all Michigan communities.

“Generally speaking, communities in Michigan and across the country have been at odds with the billboard industry because the billboard companies always want more, more, more and some communities like Livonia say, ‘No were not going to allow these—or not allow any more,’” Dart said. “In the area two miles measured around Livonia’s boundaries there are more than 50 billboards. We say, ‘Come on, why is that not enough?’ They say, ‘We don’t know why that is not enough, but we want more anyway.’”

The decision also supports the idea of placemaking and allowing communities to maintain and add to their vibrancy as economic drivers in the state, said William Mathewson, general counsel for the Michigan Municipal League.

“Certainly, we hope this Court of Appeals decision will deter other billboard-proponents from challenging local ordinances and a community’s ability to decide what’s best for their residents and landscape,” Mathewson said. “The League supports the concept of creating places that people love, and it should be up to the local community to decide if billboards are a part of the placemaking equation.”

Added Larry Merrill, MTA executive director: “The Court has affirmed that the state has granted to local governments broad powers to regulate land uses that can be reasonably seen as harming a community’s aesthetic appeal. The burden is on the owners of such regulated land uses to prove that there is a compelling need for their land use if they expect the courts to overturn a local government’s regulations. The mere desire to make money at the expense of the community’s appearance is insufficient to establish that the public needs that particular land use.”

Mike Fisher, chief assistant city attorney for city of Livonia, appreciated the support from the League, Scenic Michigan, MTA, and PCLS in the case and said the ruling is great news for the city.

“This decision is a big deal because it means Livonia can remain a billboard-free city,” Fisher said. “We’ve not had a billboard here since 1986 and this community is doing just fine without them.”

Background: Shortly after the City of Livonia was formed in 1950, the city’s leaders drafted the city’s first zoning ordinance. Among other things, that original ordinance contained an outright ban on billboards, along with a grandfather clause protecting billboards already in existence. The last of those billboards came down in 1986 and Livonia has been billboard-free ever since. This is unusual in the Detroit Metropolitan area: a 36-square-mile billboard-free zone crossed by two busy interstate highways—I-96 and I-275. While there are no billboards in Livonia, there are more than 50 billboards in the roughly two-mile wide zone just outside Livonia’s borders, Fisher said.

This is not the first time Livonia’s billboard ban has been challenged. A previous lawsuit was filed in 2001 by a New York company called Nichols & Vann Media Group LLC. The company in that suit claimed the billboard ban violated everything from the First Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The case was dismissed in Wayne County Circuit Court and Nichols & Vann eventually withdrew an appeal.

The ordinance went unchallenged until International Outdoor Inc., a Michigan billboard purveyor, began what has led to the current lawsuit. International Outdoor Inc. began its challenge in 2013 before the Livonia Zoning Board of Appeals claiming that billboards are, in effect, mandatory and communities are powerless to say no to those wanting billboards. After being denied by the ZBA, International Outdoor Inc. filed suit in Wayne County Circuit Court and lost, with Judge Kathleen Macdonald ruling that there was no need for more billboards in the Livonia area. The company then appealed to the state Court of Appeals and lost again in the June 14 ruling, Fisher said.

“International Outdoor Inc. representatives argued that billboards—or their proposed billboards—were necessary for local businesses, even though they couldn’t find a single local business to say so,” Fisher said. “In fact, the only business to address the merits of billboards argued that Livonia is a ‘city of quality’ partly because it has no billboards.”

The Court of Appeals found that Livonia could legitimately regulate billboards for aesthetic reasons and to minimize distractions to drivers, Fisher said.

Media contacts: Abby Dart, executive director for Scenic Michigan, (231) 881 6266, abbydart@gmail.com; Mike Fisher, City of Livonia, (734) 466-2516, mfisher@ci.livonia.mi.us; Matt Bach, Michigan Municipal League; (810) 874-1073, mbach@mml.org; and Jenn Fielder, MTA, (517) 321-6467, jenn@michigantownships.org.

Scenic Michigan strives to be a catalyst to preserve, protect and enhance Michigan’s scenic resources. It is a statewide organization of grassroots organizations, elected officials, and citizens working to preserve and protect the beauty of Michigan’s roadsides. Scenic Michigan is an affiliate of Scenic America, a national organization sharing our goals.

Michigan Municipal League is dedicated to making Michigan’s communities better by thoughtfully innovating programs, energetically connecting ideas and people, actively serving members with resources and services, and passionately inspiring positive change for Michigan’s greatest centers of potential: its communities. The League advocates on behalf of its member communities in Lansing, Washington, D.C., and the courts; provides educational opportunities for elected and appointed municipal officials; and assists municipal leaders in administering services to their communities through League programs and services. Learn more at mml.org.

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