Opponents of an LED billboard on the Margate Causeway argued Friday in state Superior Court that Egg Harbor Township officials never contemplated a billboard being built in a marine commercial zone.
Attorneys for the township and developer said that argument misreads the record and asked for more time.
At issue was a motion by the opponents of the billboard to overturn township Planning Board permission for the structure. Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez did not rule Friday in Atlantic City, continuing the hearing until 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.
By the end of Friday, both sides were optimistic.
"Pleased," said Chet Atkins, the president of Jersey Outdoor Media, who predicted victory. "I just think there's been a lot of fluff thrown at the judge by the other side, and it's getting kind of old."
"I think we have a much stronger case," said Richard Levitt, the chairman of Northfield's Planning Board and the lead opponent.
Jersey Outdoor Media initially got permission to build the sign in 2011, situating it in a strip of Egg Harbor Township on the causeway road between Northfield and Margate. But Levitt and others challenged it, and it has remained dark since a June 2012 court ruling. The township Planning Board re-approved a somewhat smaller billboard this spring, but it has stayed dark as the court challenge proceeds.
Attorney Steve Hankin, representing Levitt, argued the township's laws considered the billboard a principal use for the site. He said the township does not permit a property to be used for more than one principal use. The property also includes a marina.
Furthermore, when the township legalized billboards in 1993 after being banned for 17 years, Hankin said officials designated they should be in industrial and business zones - not the marine commercial zone where the controversial billboard was erected. That zone, he said, was expressly set aside for water-related purposes.
Hankin also argued the township doesn't need extra time - it was their records he had asked them for and was using in his argument, after all. He also suggested that Mendez require the township Zoning Board to now hear the issue.
Peter J. Boyer, attorney for Jersey Outdoor Media, said it was unfair to require the applicant to get another board's permission. He also said that Hankin is misinterpreting township ordinances. No ordinance expressly banned a property from two principal uses, he said. Furthermore, marine-commercial zone ordinances don't address billboards because the township sign ordinance permits them throughout the township.
Boyer also said it would be unfair for Hankin to add to the record beyond what the Planning Board considered.
Stanley Bergman, the attorney for Egg Harbor Township's Planning Board, said the township needs more time to contemplate the documents Hankin was using. He said the court should defer to the board's interpretation of the township's ordinances, saying billboards were clearly permitted.
Marc Friedman, Egg Harbor Township's solicitor, also said Hankin misinterpreted township ordinances. As a structure it was permitted in the zone, he said. Friedman also complained that the timing of Hankin's motion was unfair because it did not give the township and others enough time to properly prepare.
"He's not entitled to a slam-dunk," said Friedman. "We haven't even gotten up to bat and we're in the bottom of the ninth with two strikes against us."
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