Adams appealing permit denials

Adams Outdoor Advertising billboards is appealing permit denials to the Urban Design Commission for modifications to 22 of its billboards in Madison. This billboard along Aberg Avenue is owned by Adams.   

An advertising company locked in a long-running dispute with Madison officials over its billboards is appealing an earlier denial by the city to modify 22 of its elevated signs.

Although the company is already suing Madison for its refusal to allow billboard modifications, Adams Outdoor Advertising — which owns a majority of Madison’s roughly 120 billboards — will appeal a June decision by the city zoning administrator denying the company’s request to modify 22 of its billboards.

In nearly all of the requests, the company seeks permits to increase the height of the billboards, install digital advertising displays, or both. Adams is appealing the decision to the Madison Urban Design Commission.

The requests were first denied because they don’t meet city ordinances, said Madison zoning administrator Matt Tucker. He said the altered billboards would amount to new advertising signs, which aren’t allowed under the city ordinance.

Tucker said the appeal to the Urban Design Commission is unusual. “City code is very clear and doesn’t allow what they’ve requested.”

It’s unclear why the company is appealing the city’s decision to the commission.

Ryon Savasta, real estate manager for Adams’ Madison market, said the company wants to modify the signs because it feels “like these signs needed some attention,” but otherwise deferred questions to the company’s general counsel, Rich Zecchino.

Zecchino and other another representative didn’t return messages seeking comment.

The company has had a difficult relationship with Madison and other area municipalities in recent years. In July, it sued the city in federal court, arguing that Madison’s billboard ordinances violate the company’s right to due process and free speech.

Part of the lawsuit alleged that the city unconstitutionally prevents Adams from replacing or refurbishing existing billboards.

Under Madison’s ordinance, existing advertising signs are considered nonconforming and permitted in only a few areas, with new construction and replacement prohibited. In some cases, companies can replace signs slated to be displaced by redevelopment.

Adams also alleged that Madison’s ordinance is unconstitutional because it bans new advertising signs, like billboards, and unreasonably restricts the billboards without placing those same limitations on other signs like political or real estate signs.

The company claims that Mayor Paul Soglin and some City Council members want to eliminate Adams’ presence in the city.

In July, a state appeals court upheld a lower court’s dismissal of another Adams lawsuit claiming that Madison’s Cannonball bike path bridge over the Beltline unlawfully blocked views of the company’s billboard from eastbound traffic.

Adam has unsuccessfully sued Fitchburg over its denial of a permit to install a digital billboard to replace one partially blocked by a bike path bridge. The company also unsuccessfully sued Dane County claiming it illegally voted not to renew a lease of Dane County Regional Airport land where three billboards had stood since 1966.

Adams has appealed those two decisions.

The Urban Design Commission will review the 22 appeals at its Oct. 11 meeting.


Chris Aadland is a reporting intern for the Wisconsin State Journal.

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