By The Associated Press
OXFORD – An outdoor advertising company has sued the city of Oxford in federal and local courts to keep its billboards where they are.
The lawsuits by Lamar OCI South Corp. are in response to Oxford’s 2004 changein its sign ordinance to limit billboards to industrial-zoned areas only.
The city gave Lamar and ClearChannel, which owns only one billboard inside the city limits, five years to conform. In 2009, they were given an additional two years to comply, which put the deadline at Nov. 30, 2011.
The billboards have remained in place.
Lamar’s lawsuit filed in federal court in Oxford contends the city is violating the company’s First Amendment rights to free commercial speech.
In the separate lawsuit filed in Lafayette County Circuit Court, Lamar is seeking damages from the city if the federal court rules in the city’s favor.
Lamar owns 18 billboards in Oxford, according to the suit.
ClearChannel has not removed its sign, but it has not filed any legal action against Oxford.
The city contends it has a right to limit the number and size of signs inside of its city limits.
The billboards weren’t the only signs affected by the 2004 ordinance change. All businesses had to conform to new sign restrictions, including how many signs they could have and how big they could be.
Building official Randy Barber said all but one or two commercial businesses have come into compliance and he’s working with those who haven’t.
Industrial zone areas within Oxford include the Whirlpool area, the city’s industrial park off Mississippi Highway 7 and a small area around the University-Oxford Airport.
Lamar said in its lawsuit that it could move its billboards to these areas, however, they claim that doesn’t give them enough space to place their 18 signs, according to the lawsuit.
In October, Lamar proposed replacing the billboards with digital display signs. Instead of having two billboard signs on the same set of poles, the two traditional billboards would be replaced by one electronic billboard that could be double-sided. The new billboard would be able to display more than one digital advertisement.
The board of aldermen never voted on the suggestion.
A court date has been set for June of 2013 in the federal lawsuit. No court date has been set yet for the circuit court case.