Local organizations file lawsuit over billboard redesign

A lawsuit was filed in an attempt to preserve the historic look of the Garfield neighborhood by preventing the redesign of a billboard.(Nathan Thrash/DD)

Local organizations and business owners are fighting the city of Phoenix and Outfront Media over the potential redesign of the billboard located on the east side of Seventh Street and Roosevelt Street. The disagreement has escalated into a lawsuit against the city in an attempt to preserve the historic look of the Garfield neighborhood.

According to Artisan Village Condominium Association president Cory Kincaid, Outfront Media — the current owners of the billboard — want to convert the billboard from paper to digital and increase its height. They also want to make it double sided if possible. The height of the current paper billboard would be expanded to 30 feet from its current 18 feet. Phoenix has a sign code, under which the company can be issued an allowable use permit for the billboard, which could be used to make these changes.

Neighborhood groups and business owners including the Artisan Village Condominium Association, the Evans Churchill Community Association and Mother Bunch Brewing support the lawsuit according to Kincaid.

“The organizations and people who live in this area have put a lot of time, effort, and money into the area and have begun to generate and feel an environment within the neighborhood that allows it to be more human scale, as well as more enjoyable and lovable for people to operate in,” Kincaid said. “We believe that turning a billboard and making it into a more large and freestyle signage is really counter to that effort.”

The lawsuit is part of a series of arguments groups have had against the renovation. Outfront Media was originally denied the permit, but that denial was later overturned by the Phoenix Board of Adjustments. A file for reconsideration was previously filed and denied.

The lawsuit focuses on the reasons the zoning administrator’s rejection of the request was overturned and what previous code interpretations of the Phoenix Planning and Development zoning administrators have said in the past. The goal is for this code interpretation to be overturned or adjusted.

“We believe the interpretation to be illegal, and that it exceeds the authority of what a zoning administrator can interpret,” Kincaid said. “It needs to be applied to the code to be approved by city council. This removes the control that is needed for redoing city billboards.”

One of the concerns is the sign would prevent people from noticing local businesses — one of the reasons Julie Meeker, owner of Mother Bunch Brewing Company, became involved as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

“A big giant LED sign like that is not an appropriate addition to the neighborhood and would block the view to my beautiful, historic building,” Meeker said.

The J.B. Bayless Building, which Meeker operates her business out of, is historic, like many buildings in the area. It is on the national historic building registry, which prevents Meeker from changing anything without approval. Currently the only signs on her brewery are the pre-approved painted signs on the building, which she fears won’t be noticed if the billboard goes digital.

“If they want to put up a new sign, I’d hope they would try design something more historically appropriate,” Meeker said.

Meeker, along with her customers, are concerned with historic authenticity.

“There are plenty of areas around Phoenix where there are digital signs,” said Mike Farbee, a regular at Mother Bunch. “Leave this one alone.”

Contact the reporter at Kara.Carlson@asu.edu