By DOUG NURSE / http://www.ajc.com/
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
A Superior Court judge is considering whether to order Fulton County or the new cities in north Fulton to let sign companies set up about 70 billboards in the area. County officials and city leaders are asking the judge to toss out the sign companies’ lawsuits.
Judge Melvin Westmoreland is reviewing motions for summary judgment and responses. A hearing date has not been scheduled.
It’s a heated issue in the new cities, whose self-images do not include a horizon full of billboards. For the billboard companies, a victory could mean millions of dollars.
The billboard companies have asked for 31 billboards in Johns Creek, 15 in Milton, 23 in Sandy Springs, three in Alpharetta and three in south Fulton. Johns Creek currently has one billboard, Milton none.
Several billboard companies filed for permits from Fulton County while the communities of Sandy Springs, Milton and Johns Creek were still unincorporated. Fulton County said no, but then the state Supreme Court threw out the county’s sign ordinance as unconstitutional.
The billboard companies filed suit against the county, saying the denials were based on bad law and they should get their permits. If the companies couldn’t get the permits, they wanted the county to pay them about $6 million to cover their lost revenue.
In the meantime, Sandy Springs residents voted to become a city, starting Dec. 1, 2005. The northeast part of the county became the city of Johns Creek and the far northern area became the city of Milton on Dec. 1, 2006.
In December, Fulton County negotiated a settlement in which the commissioners agreed to issue backdated permits. City officials hit the roof. Fearing a glut of billboards, city officials asked to become a part of the court case.
In their motion for a summary judgment, filed in August, the cities say Fulton County’s proposed settlement was out of bounds because it can’t issue permits for other jurisdictions. They also maintain there are other provisions of county law that cover the denial.
The billboard companies’ motion argues that the county ordinance was invalid and they should get their signs.