Lehigh Valley Live: Can a digital billboard go up in Easton’s Centre Square? That question heads to federal, county courts.
The supporters for a digital sign in Easton’s Centre Square say the city zoning hearing board denied their right to free speech when it rejected a request for the sign.
That’s one of a number of arguments made in support of the sign in lawsuits filed this week in Northampton County Court and federal court.
The lawsuits were filed by LVL Co., a subsidiary of Adams Outdoor Advertising, in support of the sign at 6 Centre Square on the front of the One 6 Flats building. The building was formerly known as the Wells Fargo Building when a bank branch occupied the ground floor.
For more than a year building owners Dennis, Brandon and Garrett Benner have fought for permission to put up a 10-foot-by-15-foot digital sign on the facade overlooking the city center. After months of hearings, the Easton Zoning Hearing Board denied the request Aug. 23.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday, Sept. 25, in county court says the Benners need the sign to attract tenants to the building. Other Centre Square businesses have comparable signs, including the large mural on the Crayola Experience and the large microphone sign on the concert venue The One.
Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr. has said the sign would distract drivers. The city offered Adams alternative sites for the billboard but they were rejected, the mayor previously said.
Also at issue is whether the sign is a freestanding sign, which is permitted by right, or an off-premises digital sign, which is not permitted.
The federal lawsuit filed Monday, Sept. 23, says the zoning hearing board has violated LVL Co.'s right to free speech, its Constitutional right to due process and equal treatment under the law.
“It’s our belief that the city sign ordinance is absolutely Constitutional. We look forward to defending it,” said attorney Steven E. Hoffman, who will represent the city in the federal case. He plans to ask U.S. District Court Judge Edward Smith to abstain from the case and send it to county court.
Easton city solicitor Joel Scheer said in a video recording of Wednesday’s city council meeting that he would file a petition to intervene in the county case on behalf of the city. In that case, only the zoning hearing board is listed as a defendant, not the city itself.
Easton zoning board solicitor Robert Nitchkey wasn’t immediately available for comment.