Beltline billboard

A Dane County judge in February 2015 dismissed Adams Outdoor Advertising’s $740,000 lawsuit against the city that claimed the Cannonball Path bridge blocked views to its billboard along the West Beltline frontage road.

JOHN HART — State Journal archives

A judge has dismissed Adams Outdoor Advertising’s $740,000 lawsuit against Madison that claimed the Cannonball bike path bridge over the Beltline blocks a billboard from being seen by eastbound traffic.

Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess on Wednesday rejected Adams’ claim that blocking the view was an unlawful taking of private property, the city announced Thursday.

“It’s what we expected was going to happen,” assistant city attorney Doran Viste said. “The project for the Cannonball bridge was legal. There was no taking involved.”

The court’s ruling reinforces established law that there is no right to a view, city attorney Michael May said in a memo to city policy makers.

Adams real estate manager Jason Saari said he could not comment because top management was out of the country on Thursday.

Adams owns most of the roughly 130 billboards in the city, including a two-sided sign on a small parcel at 2002 W. Beltline.

The lawsuit, filed in September 2014, claimed the city never consulted the business when it was planning the pedestrian bridge, that workers trespassed on its property during bridge construction, and that the completed bridge blocks the sign from eastbound traffic.

The $4 million bridge and adjoining path are part of the larger $6 million to $8 million Cannonball Path project — which will extend from the Military Ridge State Trail to Fish Hatchery Road — being built by the cities of Madison and Fitchburg and the state departments of Natural Resources and Transportation.

Construction on the bridge just east of Todd Drive started in the summer of 2013, but during initial work it was unclear how the finished structure might affect the sign or property, Adams’ eight-page lawsuit said. After installation of bridge spans in late August that year, Adams contended the west-facing, 672-square-foot panel was “100 percent obstructed” and the value of the sign and property “substantially devalued.”

The lawsuit was filed as the city mulled an ordinance eventually approved by the City Council that now lets companies under limited circumstances remove existing signs, “bank” the square footage, and put up a new replacement elsewhere.

The ordinance, passed in mid-2015, makes it easier to move billboards in the way of redevelopment and reduce the potential for costly litigation while keeping the overall square footage of billboards in check and protecting neighborhoods. Under the ordinance, new billboards would not be allowed in historic or urban design districts or on landmark buildings but could be placed in certain commercial and employment areas.

Adams’ billboard near the bicycle bridge would not be eligible for the program unless a redevelopment of that property required removal of the sign, city zoning administrator Matt Tucker said.

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Dean Mosiman covers Madison city government for the Wisconsin State Journal.