EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — A controversial electronic billboard along the Margate Causeway could be demolished by December, following a judge’s order that it be torn down.
Superior Court Judge Julio J. Mendez on Aug. 23 ordered the owners of the billboard to file a demolition plan within 45 days, with the teardown happening 60 days later. Mendez’s order became public Wednesday.
Richard Levitt, a Northfield resident who challenged the billboard when its brilliant glare made sleeping difficult for him and his wife, said he was glad.
“Well, we’re obviously thrilled,” Levitt said. “We knew from the beginning it was constructed illegally, and now we are on the path to having the right thing done.”
His attorney, Stephen Hankin, described the potential demolition as “a major victory for the public.”
“You have no idea of the scores of calls I have gotten from people I haven’t heard from in years” who wanted the billboard gone, Hankin said.
Chet Atkins, president of billboard owner Jersey Outdoor Media, said, “The only thing I really have to say is it’s not over until it’s over.” He declined to say whether he had filed or planned to file an appeal.
His attorney, Peter Boyer, said he had seen the order but declined comment because he had not talked with his client. Boyer also would not comment on plans to appeal.
At issue is a 50-foot-tall electronic billboard approved by the Egg Harbor Township Planning Board in September 2011 and built on the causeway in early 2012. It operated for only two months before legal challenges pulled the plug by June 1, 2012.
The state Department of Environmental Protection found that wetlands had been improperly filled in to put up the billboard. The application was refiled and subsequent township Planning Board hearings reauthorized the billboard, but it remained dark.
Mendez’s ruling last week was a victory for the people who opposed putting up the billboard, but it was also a sharp rebuke to the township’s Planning Board.
Mendez ruled the board authorized the proposal without two key variances from the township’s Zoning Board, improperly mixed business and commercial zones, and ignored the clear intent of the relevant billboard ordinance.
Levitt, who chairs Northfield’s Planning Board, called on Egg Harbor Township leaders to step in.
“I would just hope at this point the township takes a responsible look at what the citizens of adjoining towns are asking them,” Levitt said. “I hope they are willing to listen to the public at this point.”
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