Billboard Saga at 4th and P Streets, NW Continues


Back in early October we learned that these billboards were supposed to be removed by Oct. 6th. Clearly that didn’t happen. A reader explains why:

“Email to the community, October 19, 2009, from DCRA Director, Linda Argo.

“Last week, the District Government tried to negotiate with Clear Channel for voluntary removal of the billboards. When the parties failed to reach an agreement by Friday, the District Government informed Clear Channel that removal of the billboards by the government was imminent. In response, Clear Channel filed a lawsuit against the District this morning in D.C. Superior Court, seeking a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to stop the District from removing the billboards. The billboards will remain in place at least until the hearing on the motion for a TRO, which has been set for Wednesday afternoon.”

According to the D.C. Superior Court website, the case number is “2009 CA 007776 B CLEAR CHANNEL OUTDOOR, INC Vs. THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA” and is scheduled to be heard at 3:30 PM, Wednesday, October 21st, 2009”

If the DC Code states, “DC Code that stipulates that billboards must not be located within 200 feet of another billboard and within 200 feet of a residential neighborhood.” then what could Clear Channel be arguing?

35 Comment

  • Why don’t residents just burn these billboards down? Clear Channel is the worst company in the world… followed by Comcast.

  • Committing crimes is no joke, so don’t joke about such things.

  • This is just a guess, but Clearchannel probably got the permit to put them up from DCRA

  • The 200 feet regulation is the NEW rule (that is, if you want to petition DCRA to get a new billboard put up somewhere, the 200 feet regulation is the rule). These billboards were grandfathered in under the old 1931 rule (of which the “list” of sanctioned billboards was lost, which means its dubious to remove long-standing billboards willy nilly), but DCRA actually had an agreement concerning these exact billboards, and denied the request to remove these exact billboards on these grounds mere months ago (see: in which it is explained, concerning these exact billboards, “But they are legal: DCRA’s predecessor agency issued a permit for them in 1961 to General Outdoor Advertising Inc., now owned by Clear Channel Communications.”), so its even more dubious as to why they are seeking to remove them now.

    I think there is a pretty good conclusion as to why they are backtracking and reversing their position: a “community” group got together and lobbied the DCRA pretty heavily to remove these particular billboards because they deem them to be an eyesore. For other coverage on “community” groups lobbying to have “eyesores” removed, see the BOXER GIRL mural.

    Now, from the previous time there was a post about these billboards, it came out that there were some dangerous and shady individuals that either hang out around these billboards and/or live beneath them. I said it before, but I’ll say it again: If there is a public nuisance being created by these billboards then they should be dealt with like all other public nuisances (fencing, police enforcement, fines, condemnation, etc.). However, if it is merely because people deem these long-standing billboards “eyesores” and don’t want these particular billboards to be here anymore, then I strenously object to both the city resources being wasted on the effort, and the concept of vocal “community” groups, rather than elected officials (DCRA = non-elected officials, btw), setting standards about what someone can and can’t do on their own property—It’s a slippery slope, as is wonderfully illustrated by the Boxer Girl saga.

  • You’re comparing *ADVERTISING BILLBOARDS* to the Boxer Girl MURAL?


  • Yes. Tell me the difference. If these billboards had Boxer Girl on them, but no ads, would the community want them to stay? What about if it wasn’t Boxer Girl, and instead it was a rotating artwork project from a local public school that was featured on these billboards? Sounds like you’re just making a judgment over what YOU deem worthy or not an “eyesore.” What gives you the right?

  • Since you don’t own my yard, you should stay out of my yard and my business. Too many people in this city just can’t help but meddle in other people’s business just because something doesn’t look pretty to them.

  • @U Says (“Yes. Tell me the difference”)

    Well, for starters, First Amendment cases make a *huge* distinction between commercial and non-commercial speech. You can regulate commercial speech pretty easily, whereas regulating art is much harder.

  • My first guess – that DC govt probably agreed to letting these billboards stand here in the first place – sounds like it was true. Surprise me sometime, DC, surprise me.

    The analogy between billboard ads and public art spaces definitely falls flat – private profit and city beautification are not the same and, thankfully, not treated that way. I’m with Anon @ 3:39 on this one.

  • I’m a multiple property owner in the District of Columbia and have over the years witnessed one of the worst deteriorations of real property owner’s rights in this country and despite being a responsible landlord have suffered great losses as a result.

    When I sign a residential lease I’m essentially granting my tenants an unearned life estate.
    No matter how bad they are I can never get rid of them, resulting in few of us still willing to be a landlord in this city resulting in the scarcity of affordable housing.

    In this case however, I see no positive contribution to these huge billboards situated on this corner. It harbors nothing positive and is certainly not conducive to a residential neighborhood.

    Zoning and land use regulations exist precisely for this purpose; government doing what citizens cannot do for themselves.

    They should come down forthwith. The property would be vacant, taxed as such, and the current owner would either develop it or sell it to someone who will.

    Its current use is nothing positive and the neighboring property owners deserve better.

    It should be interesting to see how this plays out in court. I suspect Clear Channel sees losing other billboards around town in this inappropriate mercantile use of real property.

  • clear channel, by the way, will be involved in the city’s bus shelters throughout town.
    oh, and i dont think dc negotiated getting a penny for the advertising on these shelters.
    could be wrong about that.

    but we’re about to see a hell of a lot of clear channel soon.

  • Ah, here we go again. More disinformation from those who love billboards in other people’s yards. DC Building Code Section 3107.7.6.1. contains the provisions for billboards that were present prior to 1971. This provision states that billboards present prior to 1971 are authorized to stay in place “subject to the conditions in Section 3107.7.6.1 through 3107.7.7.15.” 3107. states that “The billboard shall not be located on lots within 200 feet (60 960mm) of any Residential District, as defined by the current Zoning Regulations”. That is, only those billboards that are not located within 6096cm of any residential district can remain. These billboards are ON residential property, and immediately adjacent to other residential property, that has been since at least the 1930s.

    So what gives those opposed to the billboards the right? The law does. If U or dcpublius decided to start flashing his or her privates to school kiddies as they walked past his or her yard, the law would have something to say about that, too.

  • My sentiment on this “issue” remains the same-of all the horrible neighborhood problems, people spend their valuable and limited energy and resources on organizing against billboards. It’s sad.

  • vor: still haven’t figured out that multitasking thing yet.

  • very funny anon at 4:41 pm, but people have limited time, energy and resources. There are a thousand more important issues to multi-task on. Billboards. It’s just ridiculous.

  • They’re junky looking. Billboards are an eyesore whether they are next to a freeway or in a neighborhood.

  • I don’t understand why you care what the neighborhood rallies around… if that’s the neighborhood’s priority and it’s illegal, what’s your issue with them addressing it? If you live in the neighborhood and see a different problem as a priority, you should definitely spend your time addressing it.

  • Knackers: Misinformation? I don’t know how more cleary to state this, so how about we review exactly how DCRA stated it a few months ago:

    “Based on our research, however, we believe those four billboards are grandfathered by Section 3107.7.6.1. I have attached a copy of a building permit issued in July 1961 by the D.C. Department of Licenses and Inspections (DCRA’s predecessor regulatory agency). The 1961 building permit authorized the removal of five billboards located on the property, to be replaced by four billboards. While such a replacement is not allowed under the current D.C. Construction Codes, it was allowable under the Construction Codes in place at that time. ”

    See entire letter at:

    Now, I’ll quote directly from the municipal regulations that you purport to be an expert on:

    DC Building Code Section 3107.7.6.2: “Existing authorized billboards. Any existing billboard contained in the authorized list referred in Section 3107.7.6.1 shall be permitted to be maintained, repaired, altered, or rebuilt under authority of permits issued by the code official. No change in size or location is authorized and the maintenance and repair requirements of Section 3107.7.6.5 shall be met.”

    I’m sorry but this is going to be laughed out of court; can you get much clearer with the statement “NO CHANGE IN . . . LOCATION”? Are you at all familiar with what it means when people refer to something as “grandfathered” in? The 200 feet requirement only applies to NEW billboards (shoot, its contained in a provision of the regulations that applies to permits for new billboards), not those that have been around for decades—not to mention those that have been around for decades and also have a VALID permit.

    This is really just a naked trampling of rights, something that should be appalling to all, but apparently rights don’t exist when something “ugly” is in your neighborhood. CAHBF: What does the Supreme Court say about Due Process (though academic, it would be interesting to see if DC is violating the 5th or 14th amendment by its actions here, given its non-statehood but home rule…though I guess there are myraid examples of due process violations by the DC government, *cough*Trinidad Checkpoints*cough*, that the answer is probably readily available)?

    But, really, let’s be frank, all this purported reliance upon legal mumbo jumbo is nice cover after the fact, but the reality is that people don’t like the look of these lawful, decades-in-existence billboards. No one was scouring the municipal regulations, and noting violations, then taking action. People didn’t want these billboards here, and searched long and hard for some halfway-decent justification for their removal. These people want to force value judgments upon others. I disagree with such actions, and will happily point that the halfway-decent justification they came up with is flawed and incorrect. And its not a stretch at all to see the Boxer Girl saga as just another example of someone’s vision being offended by something that is “ugly,” and seeking to get someone else to comply with what they think is “pretty” or “appropriate.” It may seem trivial to you that because these billboards are “ugly” and “out of place with the neighborhood” that rights shouldn’t apply to them, but, fortunately, that’s not the country we live in, and rights apply to all, whether its something popular and well liked or not.

  • U, in my opinion you have protested too much and know too much about this NOT to be a plant from Clear Channel, and you are arrogant if you think the rest of us don’t know how this game works.

    Honestly, there is NO point to those billboards other than to benefit Clear Channel, and I’d be surprised if anyone other than Clear Channel employees, paid commenters, or sycophants aren’t behind similar posts. Honest disclosure would be nice, even if the FTC hasn’t yet issued guidelines requiring same apply to commenters.

    And you cannot, cannot even pretend to compare to Boxer Girl, which is not commercial speech. You seem to have done your homework for your employer, sponsor, etc., but not regarding how the laws in this area work, so please SIT DOWN.

  • Ha! If only I could have that kind of job security (though I’ll take it as a compliment that what I can turn up and spit out in minutes looks like the work of a professional). I just find myself endlessly frustrated with some of the power-starved and power-hungry people in this town that go out of there way to abuse the system in order to get what they want (and, by extenstion, what they believe is what everyone should also want). It’s everywhere and seems to infect everything: ANCs, coop/condo boards, “community” groups, etc. But with Cap Hill and the gov’t here, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Nevertheless, it is increasingly tiresome to be this weird mixture of pro-land-owner conservative and pro-due-process ACLU fighter on this billboard issue, especially when these power-starved Veruca Salts do what they do best: ignore all common sense and any hint of opposition or counter viewpoints (and now are starting to resort to ad hominem attacks). I’m incredulous that (some) fellow DC citizens think this is something worthy of spending taxpayer dollars on, but I’m equally incredulous at the holier-than-thou and hypocritical attitude taken by the people that want these billboards removed. There is very little distinction in mind between people telling someone to remove a lawfully-painted mural from their private property and telling a big bad evil corporation to remove a lawfully-placed billboard from their private property. You’re making a value judgment as to the mural/billboard in both respects, both as to the content of each and to which, if either, is preferable to the other (the irony, if it is irony, being that the billboards have lasted decades without comment, whereas the art lasted days before a removal movement began). Just nut up and admit the reality of your position–you don’t like what someone else has done, and you want to exert your will upon them to get what you want.

  • Oh, please, you bag of wind you.


    Kindly nut up yourself and admit the reality of your own existence — you like to be contrary and be intentionally antagonistic, even when you have no basis for your position. I cannot help that there is “very little distinction in [your small] mind” between personal and commercial speech. There is a difference, so look it up, because I am not about to spend my time trying to educate someone who seems to exist simply to argue.

    Bottom line, the city has every right to demand those billboards be removed. Period. End of story.

    Feel free to spend many more hours of your personal time posting other useless, meaningless, overly-long, and banal tomes regarding the stupidity of others, and therefore inadvertently again showing the viewers of this site who really lacks common sense.

  • I hate Clear Channel as much as the next person, but holy crap, aren’t there bigger problems in the neighborhood that people should be worried about?

    And I’ll bet that if those ads were for the iPhone and Starbucks instead of Cricket and McDonalds, you’d hear a LOT less complaining.

  • I frankly don’t care whether U is a ClearChannel plant or not. U’s legal analysis is persuasive, and U’s analogy of the billboards to BOXER GIRL is apt. I’d throw in the Third Church of Christ, Scientist, as well. It’s not a question of the first amendment. It’s whether the rule of law in DC has any meaning with respect to property rights. Some individuals and groups in DC seem to think that the laws on the books simply shouldn’t apply when inconvenient. Fortunately the DC courts seem to hold a different view, but in many instances, the issue shouldn’t even come to litigation.

  • well, if you don’t like where the energy is going, show up at the neighborhood meetings and engage in something.
    this issue has gotten support of bates area, edgewood, eckington , bloomingdale and maybe a few other associations. you could have voted it down.

  • So we can’t have ghost bikes, but we CAN have billboards?

  • If those billboards go away, I promise you there will be 22 white-painted ghost billboards spread all around that intersection. And when DPW takes them away, I will install more ghost billboards there.

  • There’s frequent mention on posts like this about bigger things going on in the neighborhood that everyone should worry about. I’m not trying to be antagonistic here, I’m honestly curious – isn’t there something to the notion of cleaning up the small stuff, taking pride in your community, and having that lead to an improvement in the neighborhood’s overall character (cleanliness, reduced crime, etc)? Take NYC and Rudy’s no panhandling rules. Sure, there were bigger issues out there, but you have to start somewhere, right? Maybe not the best example, but that’s sort of what I’m getting at.

  • @anonymous @416

    clear channel gave DC the bikeshare program in exchange for exclusive access to the bus stations. However, the contract stipulated that clear channel had to pay for an expansion when the city was ready. when DC announced they were installing 40 more stations this summer, clear channel balked, which is why DDOT is now looking into Bixi to replace smartbike

  • @shawres

    That’s not exactly right. I’ve looked around online and found the bus shelter contract text – it actually only states that clear channel is required to run 10 stations and 100 bikes with no stipulation or mention of any expansion. Check out the WashCycle blog for more info, but it’s all there. DDOT made big claims of expansion without any contract [with clear channel, bixi or anyone else] in place.

  • In addition to the money the city has incurred in doing the legal research on the billboards history, there’s also going to be the matter of the city eventually paying Clear Channel for the removal of the billboards. No doubt Clear Channel will ask for a ton of money for the value of the billboards.

    Additionally, the land was already classified as vacant (look it up on OTR’s Real Property Database). Clear Channel paid very little in property taxes b/c the land was assessed super low. Ironically, Clear Channel will pay even less now b/c the Council got rid of the vacant property tax. THanks Jack & Kwame!

    End result of all this: City will spend a couple million in legal and staff fees to remove the billboards and compensate Clear Channel. Then the neighborhood will have a nice vacant corner lot – which can’t be deemed as “blighted” under the new vacant property laws. Thanks again Jack & Kwame!

  • I remember a few years ago – when they were revising the codes for billboards I think – and some came in via a loophole. I think I remember that those who moved quick on the loophole stayed but the City Council closed it PDQ when they realized the consequences. I wonder if this grouping was one of them.

    there is one on the Verizon(?) building that overlooks the SE/SW freeway that I wish would go away. I am from New Orleans which went crazy for those things and find it so pleasant to not be distracted by all the visual noise now that I am in DC.

  • there’s a billboard at 3rd and k st. NE – in a totally residential neighborhood. it’s on the side of some crappy house that is being used as a church and a ‘sunday fishfry’ place. other than that, it’s pretty much vacant. actually, they don’t even use it at all on most sundays. the bldg. is actually falling down. i cannot wait until that thing gets removed, or…. whatever. hopefully lightning will strike it on one of our stormy nights….

  • I repeat my position. Billboards are fugly. “U” – sounds like you’d love Texas, where people honor other people’s property rights and they allow hideous circus-theme car washes next to the most historic buildings in town, or Barstow, Calif., where you can look at hundreds of nasty billboards for Las Vegas all day.

  • And now therefore thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning this city, whereof ye say, It shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence; the pestilence, the pestilence so terrifying it causes fowl to lose their plumage at the sound of the word: BILLBOARDS!

  • U is correct in the legal analysis. Everyone on this blog should stop trying to get DC to take clear channels property. DC forcing Clear Channel to remove the billboards is no different, from a legal perspective, than DC taking someone’s house to exercise eminent domain the owner must be compensated. If you do not like the billboards buy them and then remove them.

    Also let’s face it Clear Channel is not the most evil company in DC, Comcast is and Clear Channel is second.

Comments are closed.