The Supreme Court of Georgia decided that a billboard owner must be compensated for a sign that could not be rebuilt after being damaged. A sign in Cobb County, Georgia owned by Outdoor Systems (now Viacom) was damaged by a tornado. The County had previously adopted an ordinance that prohibited any new off-premises signs, but allowed existing structures to remain subject to certain conditions. Section 134-346 of the ordinance provided that non-conforming signs could be maintained and minor repairs could be performed. “Minor repairs” in many jurisdictions is often taken to mean expenditures of less than 50% of the cost to rebuild the sign. Signs destroyed or toppled by an Act of God do not receive a variance to be rebuilt in most cases, including Cobb County. This is a common provision of sign codes throughout the nation.
In this ruling (274 Ga. 606, S01A0859. Outdoor Systems, Inc. v. Cobb County et al.), the State’s Supreme Court decided that the County must pay full compensation for an eminent domain taking because approval to rebuild the sign was denied. Although this case involved certain highly technical issues not dealing with compensation, the end result is that the sign owner will receive compensation for the sign.
The effect of this ruling on signs in other jurisdictions is unclear. Certain points in this case can be used for arguments in other cases involving prohibitions on rebuilding signs. It is possible that other courts may come to a conclusion similar to that of the Georgia Supreme Court. Or, the technical aspects of this decision may be case-specific, and not applicable across a broad spectrum of cases in other jurisdictions.