Billboard Suit Gets Another Day in Court

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Residents think this billboard close to Ayers Street was built illegally and should be removed. - MARY BAKER
  • Mary Baker
  • Residents think this billboard close to Ayers Street was built illegally and should be removed.


The lawsuits over three Memphis billboards will get another day in court after Memphis Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter ruled Thursday that the suits had legal standing, were in the right court, and that he wanted to hear the facts of the cases.

Three Downtown residents filed the lawsuits. They allege three Medical District billboards don’t meet city zoning codes and want the billboards removed.

Potter will likely rule on the removal after the next hearing on the matter. No date was set Thursday for that hearing.

Two of the billboards in the center of the new suit are owned by media giant Clear Channel. The other is owned by Outfront Media, formerly CBS Outdoor Americas Inc.

An attorney for the groups said Thursday that citizens had no right to take the matter to court.

The legality of the billboards, the attorney said, is determined by Allen Medlock, administrator of the Shelby County Department of Construction Code Enforcement. Only Medlock is allowed to take the billboard companies to court, the companies’ attorney said.

Potter ruled that, under the Neighborhood Preservation Act, citizens can bring these kinds of cases to court, and “as a matter of fact, I believe this court is the correct venue for this type of case to originate,” Potter said Thursday.

An attorney for the residents said the billboards violated code laws when they were built. They continue to violate the Unified Development Code, he said. But the companies’ attorney said he has a different date of construction for the billboards.

Those dates will be at the center of the next hearing on the matter.

If they were built at a time when they didn’t violate code laws, they could stay up. If they were built when code laws banned their construction, they could come down.

Medlock said the billboards met code laws at the time they were built. Even though those laws have changed, the billboards were grandfathered in, along with several others around the area.

Potter said if the billboards went up at the time claimed by the residents’ attorney, then the signs would not be legal.

“It is rare is ever that a court would disagree with Allen Medlock,” Potter said just before the hearing began. “He is, in my estimation, an extremely intelligent man, well informed, and he does a great job.”

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