Two years ago, the big green billboard on Washington Road was at the center of a controversy.
Today, the billboard is gone, a related lawsuit is fizzling through the courts and the former owner has moved out of state. And county officials are ready to get on to other issues.
"We don't need lawsuits. So, we have dealt with that one. We are glad to get it taken care of," said Jeff Browning, county planning and zoning director.
It all started in late 2000, when Pudge Roberts, owner of Outdoor Mediaworks, got a permit from the county to build a billboard on property next to the railroad tracks just east of the Club Car factory. The zoning was OK and the supporting pole passed county inspection, Browning said.
Trouble started when the billboard was added to the top of the pole. The structure hung too close to Washington Road, requiring a variance to stay up.
Construction workers build a new billboard on Washington Road in front of Club Car.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Roberts asked county commissioners to allow the sign, saying he would need to cut down 1,800 trees for the sign to be visible from the current location if he was forced to shift the billboard.
County leaders argued the variance was inappropriate because such exceptions to zoning laws are usually reserved for hardship cases. Commissioners denied Roberts' request by a 4-1 vote.
In July 2001, Roberts sued the county and each individual commissioner - Barry Fleming, Diane Ford, Tom Mercer, Frank Spears and Jim Whitehead. Since then, the suit has lagged in court and Roberts' attorney Mark Cleary has pulled out of the case. Cleary did not return multiple phone calls.
In the meantime, Roberts sold the sign to Olympus Media Group, then Bressler Outdoor, an outdoor advertising agency in Winter Park, Fla., and moved out of town.
It was that sale that led to the sign coming down, Browning said.
"(That company) came to the county wanting a permit to put up another sign about 1,000 farther north by northwest," Browning said. "We, the county, told them that sign had to be removed before they would be issued any permits for a new one."
There has been no activity in the civil case in almost a year. Attorneys for the county will try to have the case dismissed, said James Ellington, county attorney with the Hull, Towill, Norman, Barret and Salley law firm.
"The bottom line is (Roberts) doesn't own the board anymore," Ellington said. "Bressler owns the board. Bressler seems to be satisfied. They have taken the sign down. So there does not appear to be an issue left out there."
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