July 1, 2008

La Crosse Eyes Billboard Condemnation

By Samantha Marcus, La Crosse Tribune, Wis.

Jul. 1--The city of La Crosse moved closer Monday to condemnation against Collins Outdoor Advertising over its refusal to sell a billboard that stands in the way of a planned hotel along Copeland Avenue.

Mayor Mark Johnsrud said Monday that Collins' staunch stance and decision to withdraw from further negotiations left the city with no other choice. The city Plan Commission on Monday recommended condemnation despite threats from a Collins attorney to tie the city up in lawsuits if it proceeds.

"Don't think that just because you people think billboards are toxic waste you have any legal standing," Collins attorney Jeff George said.

The billboard is holding up development of the 92-room Candlewood Suites.

"The hotel will not be built with the billboard there. Period," said Phil Addis, attorney for NSD Hotel Associates.

He asked the commission to weigh the benefits of a $4.8 million hotel versus a $60,000 sign.

"It's an attractive development, but that does not diminish the legal rights the Collins have and intend to enforce," George countered.

The city had directed the camps to negotiate an outright sale, but George said Collins is not willing to sell because the sign can't be moved to a comparable site due to federal regulations on the route, which is part of the Great River Road.

The city cannot take land and hand it to another private developer without a clear public purpose, George argued, even if it obstructs a "road to nowhere" NSD plans to build and donate to the city.

The Plan Commission met in closed session Monday before voting in favor of acquiring the sign, subject to extending the "road to nowhere" stub to provide public marsh and bike trail access.

"This has subterfuge written all over it," George said. "I mean it's clever, but it's patent."


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