Scenic Nevada filed a lawsuit Tuesday, July 30 against the city of Reno and billboard owner Lamar Advertising to remove a new billboard erected in April facing Interstate 580 near Mt. Rose Highway. Scenic Nevada wants the court to require the city to revoke the Herz billboard permit and make Lamar remove the sign at its own expense.

Scenic Nevada was compelled to take legal action when our arguments failed to persuade city officials that the billboard was approved in error. We think city codes prohibit billboards where the new display is located on Herz Blvd, just south of the Summit Sierra Mall.

Herz Blvd Billboard Erected in April

The Herz billboard towers 60 feet tall to be visible to passing drivers on I-580 and mars the surrounding scenic views. At first the city denied approval for the billboard application, but after emails and phone calls from Lamar and its attorney, city staff switched to an approval and a building permit was issued. Billboard permits don’t require public hearings, only staff review. The community never knows when or where a new billboard will appear until it’s built.

The billboard is next to apartments under construction in a spot where no billboard stood before. It’s near the site where city officials said billboards were prohibited during a 2015, standing room only, public hearing on a sign request from the Summit Sierra Mall. That hearing resulted in the denial of a 70-foot-tall digital sign (not a billboard) the mall wanted for advertising its tenants to I 580 drivers.

Lawsuit Was the Only Option

Scenic Nevada appeared at Reno Planning Commission meetings during public comment in April and May to call attention to the Herz billboard and to show why the application should have been denied. Our arguments were rebuffed by city staff, who said that the site was zoned for billboards.

Scenic Nevada also tried to file an appeal to the city council, but the city clerks’ office could not accept it because the time to file had lapsed. The city attorney’s office said in an email our only recourse was to file a lawsuit.

The Domino Effect Threatens Iconic Corridor

New billboards were banned within the Reno city limits in 2000 by the people when a ballot initiative authored by Scenic Nevada was approved by 57% of the voters. The ban wasn’t enforced until September 2017, when the current city council adopted regulations that stopped new construction, with one exception. Only those who own left over, unused permits can apply for a billboard application. Lamar had to surrender two as part of its application to get the Herz display approved. The city reported recently that Lamar owns 31 of the remaining 36 unused permits.

The Herz billboard is an ugly monument to a lack of enforcement that will degrade the iconic views of south Reno for decades, if left in place. Even worse, if Lamar can get its foot in the door in an illegal location, Lamar and others can be expected to exploit the city’s weakness in enforcing the law all along the I 580 corridor – a specter Scenic Nevada hopes the lawsuit will prevent.

Herz Permit Violates Three Reno Codes

The Herz billboard property is located within the Redfield Regional Center Plan area, zoned Mixed Use and was under Washoe County’s jurisdiction until it was annexed in 2005.

Scenic Nevada said in its suit filed in Second Judicial District Court that the permit approval violates three Reno laws meant to limit billboard blight and preserve the scenic nature of the property annexed from Washoe County over a decade ago. Read the lawsuit.

Those city laws:

  • Prohibit billboards in Mixed Use (MU) zones, unless the previous zone allowed them – RMC 18.16.904(a)(2).
  • Prohibit billboards on land annexed from the county, if the property is regulated by a county “specific area plan” that doesn’t list billboards as an allowed use – RMC 18.16.904(8)(a).
  • Limit all signs on properties in the Redfield Regional Center Plan area to 10 feet tall and 60 square feet in size – RMC 18.08.405(h)(11)(a).

Mixed Use Restrictions Prohibit Billboards at the Herz Site

Today, the Herz billboard site is located within Reno’s jurisdiction in the MU zone. Billboards are okay in this zone unless the previous zoning prohibited them. And the previous zoning was the county’s Tourist Commercial (TC) zone, which allowed billboards but not in the Herz location.   

The county created a boundary line in 1998, when it first allowed billboards in the TC zone. No new billboards were allowed in TC zones along I-580 south of a freeway bridge near McCarran and South Virginia Street. The Herz billboard is located over five miles south of that boundary, therefore, the permit should be revoked, and the sign removed. See map. Ignoring the county’s boundary, city staff said that because the TC zone allowed billboards, the Herz sign application was approved.

Billboard Restrictions on Annexed Property

City code prohibits billboards on property annexed from Washoe County under certain conditions. Reno annexed the site in 2005. Reno’s billboard ordinance says that if the annexed property was regulated by a county specific area plan and that plan did not list billboards as an allowed use, then new billboards shall be prohibited in the city.

The Herz billboard site was included in the county’s Steamboat Specific Plan first adopted in 1998 and billboards were not listed as an allowed use in the plan. So, the Herz billboard application should have been rejected based on this city code.

Reno’s Codes for the Area Prohibit Billboards

Finally, signs in the city’s Redfield Regional Center Plan are governed by separate Reno codes that mimic the county’s previous sign regulations for the area. Like the county’s plan, billboards are not listed as an allowed use for Redfield, either.

The city codes for the Herz site are almost identical to the county’s. Both say that street front signs on properties within the plan are limited to 10 feet tall, 60 square feet in size per side and must have a monument style design. In the city, bigger signs are allowed if the land is 20 acres or more and a special use permit is granted that includes a public hearing first.

Ignoring the city’s Redfield codes and the county’s plan, the Herz billboard was hoisted 60 feet on a mono poll and includes 672 square feet of advertising per side. There was no public hearing or special use permit granted.