The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

January 7, 2014

Billboard dispute moves to city zoning board

HERMITAGE — A Westmoreland County outdoor sign company that lost a bid to challenge Hermitage’s sign ordinance in federal court has not given up the fight.

A federal judge said Mercer Outdoor Advertising LLC had to go through proper channels before asking a federal court to rule.

On Monday, Mercer appealed to the Hermitage Zoning Hearing Board the zoning officer’s denials of seven applications for billboards, said City Manager Gary P. Hinkson, who otherwise declined to comment on the court case.

On July 19, Mercer sued the city in U.S. District Court, Pittsburgh, alleging the city’s sign ordinance violates the federal constitution’s free-speech, equal-protection and due-process clauses, and the Pennsylvania constitution.

Mercer said it had preliminary deals with landowners to post billboards on East State Street and Hermitage Road, but the city denied the applications because billboards are not permitted in commercial zoning districts.

The city allows billboards in industrial zones as a conditional use, meaning they must be approved by city commissioners after a review by Hermitage Planning Commission.

Mercer also wanted to post billboards that would be well in excess of size standards, city officials said.

The city filed a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing Mercer failed to follow the procedure prescribed in the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code for challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance.

Federal Judge Terrence F. McVerry said the “primary issue” for him was whether the case was “ripe.”

“Ripeness primarily tests timing, i.e., whether the alleged injury has occurred or is instead speculative, ill-defined or otherwise premature,” McVerry said in an opinion filed Dec. 11.

“Courts have generally imposed a particularly stringent standard for ripeness in cases involving challenges to land-use of zoning decisions,” he said.

Case law has established that zoning authorities must be given “an opportunity to arrive at a final, definitive position regarding how it will apply the regulations at issue to the particular land in question” before a constitutional challenge is ripe, McVerry said.

The decision of a zoning official is not a final decision, the judge said. Only a zoning hearing board’s determination is a final adjudication, he said.

There are exceptions for free-speech challenges, the judge said, but Hermitage’s ordinance “does not directly restrict Mercer’s speech.”

Instead, “it regulates the manner in which Mercer is able to sell billboard space to customers who wish to proclaim messages,” McVerry said.

A further consideration is whether Hermitage’s decision has presented a hardship on Mercer, he said, but the hardship must be “immediate and significant.”

“The (hardship) considerations in this case weigh heavily against Mercer,” McVerry said.

“Mercer is not under threats of fine or prosecution,” he said. “An appeal procedure to the (board of zoning appeals) is readily available and Mercer has not asserted any inability to pursue that avenue. Mercer has simply refused to avail itself of this relatively simple method of reaching finality.”

Once Mercer receives a decision from the zoning board, it can refile a federal lawsuit, he said.

Since the federal issues are not ripe, McVerry said he will not rule on the state law issue. That question could be filed in common pleas court or refiled in federal court after the zoning board acts, he said.

The Hermitage Zoning Hearing Board typically meets the first Wednesday of the month. With posting and advertising requirements to be met, it appears the board could hear the case no earlier than February.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • Prison term upheld for sex offender

    A sex offender challenging a 4- to 8-year prison sentence for a probation violation lost an appeal of that sentence.

    April 23, 2014

  • Man, 24, must register as sex offender for life

    The Ohio man who exposed himself to Sharon girls on their way to school last fall must register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life when he gets out of jail.

    April 23, 2014

  • Man deemed predator – for now

    A former Sharon man was sent to the state prison system Tuesday for corrupting the morals of a teenage girl, but the question of whether his penalties under Megan’s Law will stand could be subject to future legal proceedings.

    April 23, 2014

  • Not even waste will be wasted

    Tom Darby admits he wishes the startup of the anaerobic digestion process at the Hermitage Water Pollution Control Plant had moved along much faster.

    April 23, 2014

  • 3rd Earth Fest draws families to Penn State

    Penn State Shenango’s Earth Fest has become a spring tradition for area residents.
    Families poured into downtown Sharon for the campus’ third annual sustainability celebration.

    April 22, 2014

  • Amish clean Shenango River Volunteers protect Shenango River

    Shenango River Watchers has spent more than a decade working to clean up the Shenango and improve recreational access to its water and banks.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • For many, recycling’s become way of life

    When Pennsylvania mandated curbside recycling for its larger municipalities in 1998 – those with more than 5,000 people – there was grumbling about government interference in the lives of everyday people.

    April 22, 2014

  • Many items can’t be thrown away

    The computer screen in front of you isn’t likely to do you much harm, at least not until it’s tossed in a landfill where the lead-filled components start to leak and eventually find their way into your drinking water, according to Jerry Zona, director of the Lawrence-Mercer County Recycling/Solid Waste department.

    April 22, 2014

  • David Sykes' solar panels Earthworks

    While touring Germany last year, David Sykes spotted solar panels resting in a residential back yard.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Burned using Icy Hot, woman claims

    A Grove City woman has sued Chattem Inc. and Rite Aid of Pennsylvania Inc., alleging she suffered a second-degree chemical burn using one of Chattem’s Icy Hot pain relief products.

    April 21, 2014

  • Family outing Family friendly

    “We’re No. 5’’ isn’t a sports cheer you’ll hear any time soon.
    But considering the lumps the greater area has gotten over the years on economic rankings, it’s an outright victory.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • To demolish or not Tear it down? Fix it up?

    In 2007, Richard D. Givens bought a home at 831 Knobwood Drive in Hermitage for $245,000.
    Today, the city of Hermitage is seeking the demolition of the now-vacant house, arguing the damage from water infiltration makes the structure not worth saving.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • News briefs from April 19, 2014

    April 19, 2014

  • Man admits having child porn

    A Mercer man accused of soliciting and downloading photographs of nude teenage girls pleaded guilty April 8 to sexual abuse of children for possessing child pornography.

    April 19, 2014

  • Police getting new tool to fight crime

    Sharon police working at crime scenes will be putting a powerful new investigative tool to work as soon as next month.

    April 19, 2014