EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Municipal officials said they plan to update township sign ordinances, following a judge’s ruling last month that struck down the Margate Causeway billboard and threw hundreds of other signs into legal limbo.
The biggest proposed change would explicitly outlaw electronic signs in marine-commercial zones, Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough said. The township would also limit billboard heights in that zone to 25 feet.
The proposed changes all but ban the controversial 60-foot LED billboard, which went up in a marine-commercial zone along the Margate Causeway in late March 2012. The pulsating sign ran until June 2012, when legal challenges pulled the plug.
“Well, that’s wonderful news,” said Richard Levitt, a Northfield resident who, with his wife, sued to block the sign. “We’re going to have to go out and celebrate tonight.”
His attorney, Stephen Hankin, called it “good movement, but insufficient movement” because no billboards should be permitted in that zone.
Chet Atkins, president of Jersey Outdoor Media, said it was good the township was clarifying where signs could go but otherwise declined comment until seeing the ordinance.
Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez last month revoked Jersey Outdoor Media’s earlier township Planning Board approval and ordered the sign demolished no later than early December.
Local officials have declined to pursue appeals.
Township Committee agreed not to appeal the decision at an Aug. 28 executive session, township Administrator Peter Miller said. The township Planning Board made a similar decision on Monday, board Solicitor Chris Brown said.
“The Planning Board made the decision based on the information given to us by their professionals,” McCullough said, “and if the judge overruled it, we’re not going to spend money to appeal it, and if they want to appeal it that’s up to them.”
Peter J. Boyer, attorney for Jersey Outdoor Media, said an appeal was likely but not yet filed.
The proposed ordinance will also take steps to clarify where signs are permitted in Egg Harbor Township.
Brown said Mendez’s ruling raised questions about hundreds of existing township signs and billboards. For at least two decades, Brown said, township officials have approved signs with the understanding that a business zone was synonymous with a commercial zone.
Mendez’s ruling overturned that. His opinion pointed out that previous township officials clearly wrote laws that limited billboards to business or industrial districts — not commercial zones.
“In effect, every business in Egg Harbor Township all had illegal signs for the last 30-plus years,” Miller said.
Miller said the new sign ordinance would clarify that signs and billboards could be built in the township’s commercial zones, as well as its business and industrial districts.
The proposed ordinance is expected to be posted on the township’s website this afternoon with the rest of the ordinances and resolutions proposed for the Sept. 25 meeting. That is when the township committee is expected to formally introduce the ordinance.
It will likely be referred to the township’s Planning Board for recommendations and could be up for a final township committee vote in late October or early November.
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