Adams Outdoor Advertising is suing the city for $740,000, claiming the new Cannonball bike path bridge over the Beltline blocks a billboard from being seen by eastbound traffic.
The city intends to defend the lawsuit, which comes as it mulls an ordinance proposed by City Council President Chris Schmidt and supported by Adams to let companies remove existing signs and put up replacements elsewhere.
“We didn’t do anything to the billboard,” City Attorney Michael May said. “They don’t own the right to have anyone look at it from a specific position. The law is pretty much established. You don’t have the right to sight lines.”
Adams filed the lawsuit on Thursday — only weeks after Schmidt introduced his proposal — to beat a deadline to start the lawsuit, Adams real estate manager Jason Saari said.
Saari declined to comment on details of the lawsuit but said Adams is concerned it might sour discussions on Schmidt’s proposal and is approaching the city with a request to file a joint motion with the court to place the lawsuit on hold.
“We know the timing is not good, but it was a deadline we couldn’t let pass,” Saari said. “Adams is interested in working things out.”
May said he had not yet been contacted about a delay by midday Tuesday and would have to review the details of any request.
Adams owns most of the roughly 130 billboards in the city, including a two-sided sign on a small parcel at 2002 W. Beltline. In the lawsuit, the company claims the city never consulted the business when it was planning the pedestrian bridge, that workers trespassed on its property during bridge construction, and that the completed bridge blocks the sign from eastbound traffic.
The $4 million bridge and adjoining path are part of the larger $6 million to $8 million Cannonball Path project — which will extend from the Military Ridge State Trail to Fish Hatchery Road — being built by the cities of Madison and Fitchburg and the state departments of Natural Resources and Transportation.
Construction on the bridge just east of Todd Drive started in the summer of 2013, but during preliminary work it was unclear how the finished structure might affect the property or sign, Adams’ eight-page lawsuit says.
After installation of prefabricated bridge spans in late August that year, Adams found the west-facing, 672-square-foot panel was “100 percent obstructed,” the lawsuit says, contending the value of the sign and property had been “substantially devalued.”
Later, Adams discovered that trucks, equipment and workmen had been using the property to construct the bridge, according to the lawsuit, which seeks $740,000 plus other legal expenses. The company is not seeking to relocate or remove the bridge.
Schmidt said he anticipated the lawsuit and agreed it might spoil the political climate for his proposed billboard ordinance, which is poised to move through the city committee review process with a possible council decision in October.
Schmidt’s “cap and replace” program would let companies take down billboards, get credit for the square footage removed, and apply the credit to a billboard to be erected in another location.
The proposal, Schmidt has said, is intended to make it easier to move billboards in the way of redevelopment or road projects and reduce the potential for costly litigation while keeping the overall square footage of billboards in check and protecting neighborhoods. Under the proposal, new billboards would not be allowed in historic or urban design districts or on landmark buildings but could be placed in certain commercial areas.
The Beltline billboard, he said, is part of the reason that he crafted the proposal in the first place.
The city, meanwhile, worked closely with a Culver’s restaurant near the bridge and eventually approved a package that let the restaurant move and increase the height of its sign, which differs from a billboard because it provides on-site identification for a business, city zoning administrator Matt Tucker said.