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Christ Central Ministries v. City of Columbia Board of Zoning Appeals

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

August 1, 2018

Christ Central Ministries, Respondent,
v.
City of Columbia Board of Zoning Appeals, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2015-002532

          Heard March 14, 2018

          Appeal From Richland County Tanya A. Gee, Circuit Court Judge

          Patrick L. Wright and Dana M. Thye, of Columbia, for Appellant.

          Jerry Jay Bender, of Baker Ravenel & Bender, LLP, of Columbia, for Respondent.

          LOCKEMY, C.J.

         We review a decision by the circuit court reversing on appeal a decision of the City of Columbia Board of Zoning Appeals (the City) denying Christ Central Ministries (CCM) a permit to replace a billboard on its property. We dismiss this case because it is moot.

         FACTS

         CCM owns property on the corner of Main Street and Elmwood Avenue in Columbia. Previously, CCM leased a portion of the property to Lamar Companies (Lamar) for the purpose of erecting and maintaining a fixed display billboard. In 2014, Lamar sought a permit to replace the existing billboard with a changeable copy billboard. The City issued the permit on March 13, 2014, and that permit, by its terms, lasted six months. On June 16, 2014, Lamar requested an extension of its permit. The City granted the extension until December 31, 2014.

         During 2014, CCM began negotiations to enter into a new lease agreement for the sign location. CCM, through its agent, requested a permit from the City to replace the existing billboard with a changeable copy billboard on September 23, 2014. The City denied CCM's request because "Currently, there is an active zoning/building permit . . . issued to Lamar Advertising, to convert said sign to a changeable copy." The letter notified CCM "[s]hould that permit not be renewed or the proposed work completed, and/or should Lamar retain no property interest, it is my understanding that you immediately intend to obtain a permit for the conversion to changeable copy per 17-404(e)(4)."

         CCM decided to sign a lease with a different sign company, and Lamar removed its billboard in August 2014. CCM again sought a permit to place a changeable copy billboard on the property in January, 2015, after the expiration of Lamar's permit. The City denied CCM's request noting "[i]t is my understanding that the non-conforming sign at the above referenced location was removed by the sign owner on or about August 2, 2014. As such, this office would not be able to issue a permit, per § 17-404(e)(4), to replace a sign that is no longer existing." CCM appealed the City's decision to the Board of Zoning Appeals, which affirmed the City's denial. CCM appealed the Board's decision to the circuit court.

         The circuit court reversed the Board's decision. The circuit court found, according to the plain language of the City's ordinance, "no language in the relevant provision of the ordinance imposes a time period in which one must act to seek a permit, and strict construction of the ordinance does not grant this court authority to impose such a limitation." The City filed a notice of appeal on December 7, 2015.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "The appellate court gives 'great deference to the decisions of those charged with interpreting and applying local zoning ordinances.'" Arkay, LLC v. City of Charleston, 418 S.C. 86, 91, 791 S.E.2d 305, 308 (Ct. App. 2016) (quoting Gurganious v. City of Beaufort, 317 S.C. 481, 487, 454 S.E.2d 912, 916 (Ct. App. 1995)). "This court will not reverse a zoning board's decision unless the board's findings of fact have no evidentiary support or the board commits an error of law." Id. at 91-92, 791 S.E.2d at 308. "Issues involving the construction of an ordinance are reviewed as a matter of law under a broader standard of review than is applied in reviewing issues of fact." Id. at 92, 791 S.E.2d at 308 (quoting Mikell v. Cty. of Charleston, 386 S.C. 153, 158, 687 S.E.2d 326, 329 (2009)). ...


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