Billboard company, city settle lawsuit|[10/04/05]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 4, 2005

An outdoor advertising company’s lawsuit against the City of Vicksburg has been settled out-of-court with both sides happy, a joint statement issued Monday said.

Lamar Advertising had sued in 2003 after disputes arose over enforcement of the city’s revised sign ordinance, specifically regarding the maintenance of existing billboards.

After the negotiations, Lamar will have more options.

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“We have a settlement agreement where we’ll take down the boards they want us to take down and in turn we have places to put them,” said Marty Elrod, vice-president of Lamar Advertising.

Some of those places would have been ineligible for outdoor signage under the comprehensive ordinance, passed as a beautification measure. The law bans most new billboards and imposed structural standards on those in place.

Lamar sued after being told some existing billboards had deteriorated and had to be removed. Once removed, they could not be rebuilt.

The statement said, “The city has agreed to allow the erection of new billboards in certain commercial and industrial areas of the city not allowed under the current ordinance,” while “Lamar has agreed to remove or has already removed 16 billboards from the downtown area.”

Signs removed from central areas, including Clay Street and Washington Street, will be replaced one-for-one in other commercial and industrial areas of the city.

According to the city, no money was exchanged and each side handled its own attorney fees.

Elrod said the agreement is going to benefit Lamar and its advertisers.

“We don’t want to be in places that are residental or historic,” Elrod said. “We want to be in high commercial places and the places we’re going to be able to build are high commercial.”

South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman, who held his current office in 2003 when the suit was filed, said he thinks the agreement will benefit the community.

“A lot of good things came out of it,” Beauman said. “I think we’ve got something that’s workable.”

Nancy Thomas, city attorney, said officials will discuss revisions to the sign ordinance.

In other business, officials adopted a resolution authorizing the city to prepare and submit an application to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding. Wayne Mansfield, with the city Planning Department, said the request is for the city’s flood buyout program. It allows the city to buy flood-prone property from owners in the designated flood plain for fair market value. Structures are removed and no rebuilding is allowed.

The resolution calls for a local match of $341,416, with $269,316 in cash and $72,100 in services.

Mansfield said currently there are 27 properties enrolled in the flood buyout program. However, he said because the program is voluntary, several applicants will likely decide to drop out of the program before the city purchases their property.

Also, the board: