Philadelphia’s Sign Code Held Constitutional

In a crushing defeat for Callowhill Center Associates, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Idee C. Fox issued an Opinion on July 9, 2009 which unreservedly upheld the ZBA’s denial in 2006 of a variance for a 9,750 square foot commercial advertising wall wrap.

Callowhill Center Associates (CCA) proposed the wall wrap at 417 North 7th Street in 2005. The owner sought to re-erect a seven story vinyl advertising wrap that he had illegally erected on the building in 1999. The building is located within the specially protected Vine Street Parkway Area which prohibits outdoor advertising signage.

After being denied a hearing by the United States Supreme Court, the owner returned to the Zoning Board again, this time arguing that the city’s outdoor advertising sign controls were “unconstitutional”.

In her July 9th decision Judge Fox disagreed:

“Philadelphia is a historical city: we pride ourselves on our monuments, our skyline and our history. The ZBA had more than ample testimony and evidence to establish the purpose of the ordinance in question.”

Judge Fox found that the city’s ordinances are constitutional and explained it this way:

“Although CCA[Callowhill Center Assoc.] presented testimony to show that the wall wrap advertisement at issue was safe and presented no hazard, they failed (to) establish that the ordinances in question were not constitutional.

CCA argues that these ordinances were enacted to appease a small group of individuals who find outdoor advertisements in general distasteful.

However, our democratic form of government ensures that ordinances of this nature are vetted through our elected officials who must balance the whims of individuals and groups with the safety and needs of our City.

In the balancing test CCA cannot overcome the City’s substantial need to maintain the area in question which includes the zoning and use restrictions at issue herein.”
The case has a long history, which began when Callowhill illegally erected the huge advertising wrap on its building in 1999.

Philadelphia is, indeed, a city with pride in our monuments, our skyline and our history. Scenic Philadelphia, the public voice for public space in Philadelphia is proud of our role in continuing to protect and defend this tradition.