A protracted wrangle over 59 billboards illegally erected in Houston’s 5-mile-wide extraterritorial jurisdiction ringing the city ended Thursday when U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt ordered bankrupt RTM Media to dismantle the outdoor advertising within 12 months.
The judge’s order came after receivers of the company, which went bankrupt in April 2009, petitioned the court for permission to cancel its advertising contracts and remove the signs.
Craig Smyser, an outside attorney representing the city in the case, called the judge’s order “a complete victory for the city.”
Smyser said he is unaware of any other legal challenges to the city’s billboard ordinance.
RTM Media, which had been slapped with hundreds of citations by city inspectors, challenged the 1980 ordinance’s constitutionality in 2007. The U.S. Supreme Court resolved the case in favor of the city.
See here and here for some background. The key to this is that the city will not have to pay anything to remove the signs; RTM is on the hook for that, and it owes the city a $50,000 payment on top of that. A statement from the Mayor’s office about the resolution of this case is beneath the fold, and a map of the billboards’ locations is here.
59 Illegal Billboards to Come Down Following City of Houston Court Victory
Mayor Annise Parker announced today that after more than three years of intense and continuous litigation the 59 illegal billboards located in the City’s extraterritorial jurisdiction owned by a scofflaw company called RTM Media will finally be coming down. The litigation included a challenge to the legality of the City’s Sign Ordinance, which was upheld at each stage of the litigation, finally culminating in a ruling favorable to the City of Houston from the United States Supreme Court.
Due in part to the City’s success in previous court battles, the erection of new billboards has been banned in Houston for years. “This company thumbed its nose at that prohibition and targeted the neighborhoods just outside our city limits,” said Mayor Parker. “This is another major victory in the long-running battle to reduce visual blight. Sign control, an attractive urban streetscape and green space equal a formula designed not only to insure the quality of life for Houstonians but a recipe for economic success.”
Over the next 12 months, the signs will be removed as part of an order entered by the U.S.District Court through which the assets and affairs of the company have been managed since the company was placed into receivership in April of 2009. The removal will be at no cost to the City of Houston, and could cost the receivership estate upwards of $15,000 per sign, a cost that could have in the worst case scenario been incurred by the City to remove the illegal signs. The order also provides for a cash payment to the City of Houston in the amount of $50,000 to defer a portion of the City’s other costs incurred in the process.
The City is appreciative of the efforts of the law firm of Smyser Kaplan & Veselka, the City’s special legal counsel, as well as the efforts of members of the City’s Legal Department and Public Works Department – Sign Administration, in continuing to pursue various avenues to achieve this result. The City also appreciates the efforts of the Texas Department of Transportation to resolve this matter, the efforts of the Federal receiver to achieve compliance through the receivership process, and the continued support of interested citizens groups like Scenic Houston.