Property in the Horizon: The Theory and Practice of Sign and Billboard Regulation
68 Pages Posted: 17 May 2006
Date Written: May 2006
This article is the first piece of legal scholarship to address the land use issues associated with signs and billboards in a comprehensive and systematic manner. Although other scholars have addressed signs as a category of First Amendment law, the land use side of the sign issue has been neglected. Signs are a pervasive form of land use, and they pose distinctive practical and theoretical problems for land use law and policy. Yet, the land use literature has rarely treated signs as such. This article seeks to fill the void. The article has three principal aims. First, it provides a comprehensive history of sign and billboard disputes, using one city's century-long experience as a case study. The article relies on original research from primary sources to explain how and why patterns of sign land use and sign regulation have evolved over time. It pays special attention to the economics of signs and the public choice aspects of sign regulation. Secondly, the article uses lessons gleaned from this history to construct a framework for thinking about sign regulation. It examines how signs relate to concerns about nuisance, aesthetics, information, and expression. It also corrects certain conceptual mistakes made by judges and policymakers. Finally, the article evaluates the regulatory tools available for controlling sign land use. It critiques some common approaches to regulating signs, and it argues that sign regulation should embrace alternative regulatory tools, such as nuisance law and taxation, which have so far been underutilized and underappreciated.
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