State regulators approved an environmental permit Thursday for a controversial LED billboard on the Margate Causeway.
The billboard is the subject of a lawsuit alleging that the owners illegally filled in wetlands, among other violations.
According to revised plans filed with Egg Harbor Township, Jersey Outdoor Media would move the billboard’s support pole about 24 feet west of its current location, with the billboard facade cantilevered over the wetlands.
The Coastal Area Facilities Review Act permit approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection requires the developers to mitigate 11 square feet of disturbed wetlands, ensure that no additional wetlands are disturbed during construction and that any debris is disposed of properly.
Richard Levitt, the chairman of the Northfield Planning Board, who filed a lawsuit in April seeking to remove the billboard, said the permit and revised plans don’t follow the spirit or the letter of the law.
“One of the conditions of CAFRA approval is that they have to show scenic compatibility,” he said. “If adjacent towns go to the trouble of having city commissions write resolutions ... how can somebody in Trenton who hasn’t been down here to see it say it’s visually compatible?”
Margate and Northfield have approved resolutions condemning the 60-foot-tall billboard, which features both conventional and electric light-emitting diode signs.
Levitt and his attorney, Stephen Hankin of Atlantic City, pointed to a CAFRA denial letter drafted by the DEP several weeks ago, which they obtained through the Open Public Records Act.
In addition to violations resulting from construction on a state-designated wetland, the letter states that the billboard “is not visually compatible with existing scenic resources, as it towers over the few wooden billboards in the area. Also, the nearest marina building is approximately 40 (feet) in height. The LED billboard runs 24 hours a day, disturbing the residential neighborhood to the northwest of the site.”
“The approval makes them move it out of the wetlands but doesn’t find it in violation of anything else we or (their) staff found,” Hankin said. “It doesn’t fit in. It’s that simple.”
DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said the previous denial was a draft document based on the original plans, while the approval was based on changes made by the owners.
“The key point here is that the footprint of the sign was moved,” he said. “In other words, the draft denial was based on a certain set of facts, (and) the applicant changed his mind.”
Once the billboard has been relocated, Hajna said, no further DEP enforcement action will be necessary.
Hankin said he plans to appeal the CAFRA decision. He has also filed for injunctive relief to stop the Egg Harbor Township Planning Board from considering the revised plan at its Monday meeting.
The lawsuit — which makes additional allegations about violations of municipal policy and procedure — is still making its way through the courts, he said.
Township Administrator Peter Miller said the board will consider the amended plan Monday, barring an injunction.
“If (the applicants) have the underlying approval of a state agency, that’s going to go a long way in the Planning Board’s decision-making,” he said.
The billboard was first approved by township planners last September. After that decision, Miller said, the applicants assured the township that they weren’t required to obtain a CAFRA permit before construction began.
“I dealt with the individual who accepted (the applicants’ assurances),” he said. “I found the behavior unacceptable by an employee, and we dealt with that separate and distinct matter.”
As a voting member of the Planning Board, Miller declined to comment further on the specifics of the plan.
Moorestown, Burlington County-based Jersey Outdoor Media leases the land for the billboard from Hackney's Boat Yard Inc. Neither company responded to requests for comment Thursday.
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