Published: Mar 09, 2013 04:00 PM
Modified: Mar 09, 2013 04:02 PM
CARY - The days of the towns last billboard may be numbered.
The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday that Cary was justified in ordering the pole sign on East Chatham Street removed.
Fairway Outdoor Advertising, victorious in a lower court, lost the appeal on a timing issue. The company did not react quickly enough when the town warned in 2006 that the billboard violated local rules, the appeals court ruled.
The 300-square-foot sign is more than 50 years old, according to Fairway representatives. It ran up against town ordinances in 2003, when the local government ordered billboard owners to phase out the last of the signs, which have been largely banned here for about 30 years.
Fairway sued the town in 2008, appealing a Zoning Board of Adjustment decision.
Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III issued a ruling in 2011 against the town on most of Fairways charges. The judge found that it was impractical to expect Fairway to remove its sole business from the town, and he struck down the $39,350 in fines that the town had assessed against Fairway.
He also wrote that Cary was arbitrary in forbidding the Fairway sign while allowing the state Department of Transportations logo signs to advertise local businesses along town roads, among other findings.
But none of those arguments made a difference in the appeals courts decision by Judge Donna Stroud, which was supported by judges Sanford Steelman Jr. and Robert N. Hunter Jr. Stroud. According to the ruling, Fairway missed its window for appealing the towns decision about the billboard, largely mooting the rest of the argument.
Carys general rules require appeals of contested decisions within 30 days. The town and the appeals court argue that the timer started, at the latest, when Cary in 2006 issued an informal notice of violation demanding removal or replacement of the sign.
Fairway argued that its window to appeal started in 2007, when the town issued a more-official notice of violation.
With the appeals court siding with the town, the future of the last standing billboard in Cary is unclear. Fairway could appeal the decision to the N.C. Supreme Court, but hasnt announced its plans.
Were analyzing it and reviewing it at this time, said Paul Hickman, the companys general manager. Well make decisions here in the near future.
Town staff are appreciative of the courts ruling, but they warn that the case may be a long way from a final resolution, according to a written release from spokeswoman Susan Moran.
The town has spent about $69,000 on the case. If victorious, the town may recoup about $32,000, most of which could go to area schools.