Sign owner set back in billboard battle

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (June 22, 2014) — The owner of a billboard towering over a busy intersection in the Geist area said he will abide by the city’s demand that he take the sign down, but will file a seven-figure claim to be compensated for his loss.

Jeff Lee received approval from the Department of Code Enforcement last winter to build the billboard, 40 feet in the air and 50 off the road, near the intersection of East 82nd Street and Fall Creek Road.

The east side of the billboard is a traditional static sign while the west side facing the intersection features a message surface that changes every ten seconds.

“This is a good area for a billboard because there’s not a lot of signage out here. It’s just a spot close to a stoplight as many billboards are. It’s a great fit for a billboard.”

Great location for a billboard, bad for traffic, complained residents.

“As you’re coming down 82nd Street you can’t even see the yellow light when it’s involved in the yellow there,” said billboard opponent Bob Hittle. “There’s no way you can see the yellow. Then they had another sign that had red. You couldn’t see the red light coming down the hill and there’s several cars that have missed this light because of this billboard.”

Community complaints led to a hearing before the Board of Zoning Appeals which reversed Code Enforcement and revoked Lee’s permit, ordering him to take the sign down.

“They decided that it’s a public safety hazard,” said Lee. “Basically this billboard behind me can kill you was the determination made.”

His permit revoked, his lease abrogated, Lee said he had no choice but to follow the appeals board ruling but not before he sent a message of his own on his own billboard.

A skull and crossbones is featured on one sign with the word “DANGER.” Another praises the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the last warns that Marion County taxpayers may be soaked for the cost of what Lee calls his “MillionDollarBillboard.”

“The question is, guess who pays for government taking property,” said Lee, “and the answer is, the taxpayers. If its Marion County taking the property from private citizens, it’s the Marion County taxpayers who will pay.”

Lee expected to realize $2.4 million in revenue from the billboard’s 20 year lease. He has directed his attorney to soon file a claim with the city for compensation as the result of the reversed decision.

Opponent Bob Hittle said the billboard was out of character with the area despite other smaller location signs at two neighboring shopping areas.

“We have the blue herons over here. We have Geist and the woods and the beauty and it also has decreased property values here,” Hittle claimed.

Hittle said the Geist billboard battle alerted city county councilors who will now be advised when such signage is proposed for communities in their districts and will permit residents to weigh in during the permitting process.

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