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Ask Our Lawyer - February 2001

Q: Our local chapter has an A.B.A.T.E. sign that we want to put up on some property we own. We've been told by the local authorities that we can't. Do they have a legal basis to prevent us from placing a sign on our property?

A: Let's make sure that we're all on the same page. If the sign is one that is of a commercial nature, then the zoning officials have authority to regulate it. Now if we're taking about a sign with an explicitly political message, we implicate First Amendment protections. From the question, it looks like we're talking about a non-political, non-commercial informational sign.

The definitive case on this subject is from the United States Supreme Court. In City of Ladue v. Gilleo (512 US 43, 1994), the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that, while municipalities may regulate sign size and location for certain valid reasons. The court essentially used a balancing test and decided that the individual's right to express her opinion with a sign outweighed the City's power to prohibit signs.

The question here, then, is whether the zoning authority has expressed any reason why the A.B.A.T.E. sign should not be allowed. If there is a zoning ordinance prohibiting the sign? If so, has anyone asked for a variance? If not, you should consider that course of action. Often these proceedings are held before the zoning board. The person seeking the variance can present to the board their reasons for the request. Other interested persons can also make presentations, either in support of the variance or against. These interested persons are sometimes referred to in the zoning board minutes as remonstrators. Pursuing the available administrative options may make it easier to win a case in court. Courts are more disposed to rule on a case if the plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies.

If you have any questions you would like to ask the lawyer, please submit them to: ASK OUR LAWYER, P.O. Box 2850, Indianapolis, Indiana 46206-2850, or email to brianshadiow@abatelegal.com. Although there is no guarantee your questions will be answered, any topic you would like to discuss will be gratefully accepted and considered.