Op-ed article makes the case against big signs
FITCHBURG — If you have an eye sore you go to an ophthalmologist, unless your eyesore is a billboard. Then, if you’re Adams Outdoor Advertising Co., you go to a lawyer.
Adams’ lawyers’ efforts to bend the law to their will are not always successful, but they keep trying. In February, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess rejected Adams’ claim that partly obstructing the view of one of its billboards with an overpass on Madison’s busy Beltline in Fitchburg was not an unlawful taking of private property, as Adams had contended.
Adams avoided lawsuits when it settled longstanding disputes with the city of Madison in 2011, but the settlements came at a cost to the public. While Adams agreed to remove two eyesores — one at Union Corners and the other at the Villager Shopping Center on the South Side — it was given the right to apply for five new billboards, as though Madison’s ban on new billboards didn’t exist. This is an example of how valuable billboards are — to the billboard companies.
Adams wanted to preserve that billboard infrastructure despite opposition by pesky neighbors, so it went to court to challenge the County Board’s 18-16 vote, taken on April 7, against renewing a lease for a billboard on county land on Aberg Avenue near the Dane County Regional Airport.
The real question isn’t the legal technicality on which Adams wants to hang its hat, or its convoluted view of its rights. It’s whether signing a billboard lease is like entering into a marriage contract “until death do us part.” According to the law unto Adams, once you’ve signed that lease, there may be no such thing as a divorce.
In fact, we’ve always had the right to view the natural landscape, and billboard companies have never had the right to impose their message between you and that natural landscape.
It all brings to mind the doggerel penned by Ogden Nash (with apologies to Joyce Kilmer):
“I think that I shall never see/a billboard lovely as a tree./Perhaps, unless the billboards fall/I’ll never see a tree at all.”
Far-fetched? Not in Wisconsin, where state law gives billboard companies the right to cut trees on public property if they interfere with passing motorists’ view of a billboard.
Eggleston, of Fitchburg, is a member of the board of directors of Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin.
18 Sep 2016