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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Fulton ordered to pay $4 million for denying billboards.

By Johnny Edwards and Bill Rankin
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Fulton County must pay more than $4 million in damages and attorneys’ fees to a billboard company, according to recent court decisions that handed more blows to the county’s losing battle to keep large roadside signs out of the northern suburbs.

A U.S. District Court in Atlanta jury last month awarded $3.97 million in damages to KH Outdoor, which filed suit against the county in 2003. Last week, a federal judge ordered the county to pay $477,156 in attorneys’ fees and expenses to the company’s lawyers.

The nine-year-long litigation began after the county denied applications by a company affiliated with KH Outdoor to erect 32 billboards next to the county’s busiest thoroughfares. After the rejections, KH Outdoor sued and challenged the constitutionality of the county’s sign ordinance.

In 2007, the Georgia Supreme Court struck down Fulton’s sign ordinance. Last year, the state supreme court said companies that submitted applications while the unconstitutional law was in effect could move forward with their signs, including at locations inside recently incorporated north Fulton cities.

Last month, a federal judge let a jury for the U.S. District Court in Atlanta decide how much the county should pay for its delay in not initially approving the signs to KH Outdoor, which resulted in the $3.97 million verdict.

Adam Webb, a lawyer for the billboard company, declined comment. Fulton County Attorney David Ware said an appeal by the county “remains a viable option.”

Cities across north Fulton are now negotiating with sign companies, trying to have as much say in the placement of the billboards as possible.

Sandy Springs, for example, is in talks with billboard companies to find locations that won’t clutter the landscape, City Attorney Wendell Willard said.

KH Outdoor wants to put up two dozen signs, mostly along Roswell Road, and Action Outdoor Advertising, which also was involved in the litigation, has already put up two signs — one along Roswell Road north of I-285 and another along Ga. 400 near Roberts Drive, Willard said.

“We’re still in the process of negotiating with the sign companies,” Willard said, “working with them to seek the locations that are the least intrusive.”

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