Signage • Zoning

JMC Restaurant Group Inc. v. Pocono Township Zoning Bd., PICS Case No. 14-0144 (C.P. Monroe Jan. 29, 2014) Zulick, J. (8 pages).

JMC appealed from a ruling by the Pocono Township Zoning Board that held that a trailer owned by JMC and parked at a gas station not far from a restaurant owned by JMC was regulated by the Pocono sign ordinance. JMC argued that because the trailer was licensed, insured and occasionally used on the road for business purposes it was not subject to the sign ordinance. Appeal granted.

JMC operated a restaurant in a shopping plaza. The trailer was wrapped with photographic images and text advertising the restaurant and is routinely parked at a gas station owned by JMC near the restaurant. The zoning board determined that the trailer is displaying a sign as defined in §202 of the zoning ordinance. JMC argued that whether the trailer should be regulated as a sign should be determined under §702.S of the ordinance which addresses signs that are attached to unregistered, inoperable or uninsured vehicles and trailers. The board conceded that because JMC’s trailer was licensed, insured and operable §702.S did not apply to it.

The only provision in the zoning ordinance which is specifically directed to signs on vehicles is § 702.S. Thus, by implication a sign on a vehicle that is properly titled, registered and insured is not prohibited. The board objected to the trailer because JMC parked it on an off-premise location next to a highway, essentially allowing it to operate as off-premise advertising when not in use on the road. The board determined that the trailer sign was regulated under §§701.B.1a, 701.B.1.g, 701.B.2.c, 702.C and 702.R of the ordinance.

However, §701.B.1 regulates on premise business signs. Section 701.B.1.a regulates signs constructed on the premises, not on a vehicle or trailer. Section 701.B.1.g regulates the minimum distance between freestanding signs and appears to be directed at fixed signs, not vehicles or trailers. Section 701.B.2.b regulates the height of a fixed advertising sign, not a vehicle or trailer. Section 701.B.2.c prohibits signs within 50 feet of any property line or within 15 feet of any road right of way. This section is clearly designed to regulate a sign fixed to real property because, if this section applied to vehicles or trailers, lawfully driven vehicles bearing signs would violate this section as their operators used roads and parking lots within the township. Section 702.C also refers to a fixed sign and does not mention vehicles or trailers. Section 702.R provides that “no sign shall contain more than two faces.” If it were enforced against vehicles it would regulate all lawfully operated vehicles in the township bearing sings on three sides. including municipal buses.

The township zoning ordinance simply does not include a provision that regulated JMC’s activity. So long as the trailer was used for lawful purposes under the motor vehicle code, it was difficult to distinguish it from all signs on registered and insured vehicles. To the extent that the ordinance is ambiguous in its treatment of lawfully operable vehicle advertising, the ambiguity would have to be resolved in favor of the property owner.