City officials are mulling their options when it comes to advertising benches.
In response to complaints from residents in various neighborhoods -- notably William Logan of the Northland Area Code Task Force -- regarding the proliferation of these benches on city sidewalks, the administrator of the Division of Infrastructure Management sent a letter April 30 to the Bench Billboard Co. of Cincinnati demanding removal of the ones not authorized by a 1989 appeals court ruling.
"The city of Columbus has recently received a number of complaints about new sign benches illegally located in the city's right-of-way ... " Frank D. Williams wrote in the letter.
Williams set a deadline of May 14 for the company to comply, after which the unauthorized benches were to be removed by city personnel and held for 30 days.
"If the bench is not claimed within that time period, the city will dispose of it appropriately," Williams wrote.
That action was put on hold after city officials received a response, dated May 8, to the administrator's letter from a law firm representing Bench Billboard Co., said Jeffrey M. Ortega, assistant director of the Department of Public Service.
"As you are aware, BBC has recently purchased the assets of American Display Co.," Eric C. Holzapfel of Holzapfel Law LLC in Terrace Park wrote. "We have been provided a copy of your April 30, 2018, letter asked to reply on BB's behalf. In your letter, you attach a copy of what you term an 'approved location' list which appears to include both BBC and ADC bench locations. You also indicated that you have received 'a number of complaints about new sign benches.'
"BBC is most interested in continuing to work with the city of Columbus by providing benches for the public to use at no cost to the city. However, your letter is problematic in that it fails to specifically address the location or locations that are the subject of the 'complaints.' If the city is expecting BBC to survey all of the locations referenced in the attachment to your letter which may, or may not, fully include all of BBC's/ADC's legal locations, the timeline set forth in your letter is totally unrealistic."
"The Department of Public Service is still in the process of determining its next steps in this matter," Ortega, who serves as the spokesman for the public service department, wrote in a May 23 email.
"While we are in the process of working this out, I strongly suggest that the city refrain from any arbitrary confiscation of BBC's/ADC's benches in the city of Columbus," Holzapfel wrote. "As I'm sure you are aware, the last time the city acted in such an arbitrary manner, it resulted in litigation that did not end favorably for the city."
The city of Columbus lost a lawsuit filed in 1986 after workers confiscated some of Bench Billboard Co.'s benches in response to City Council legislation. In a 1989 ruling on an appeal of that decision, the Tenth Circuit judges again found in favor of Bench Billboard, but said the benches for which city officials had issued building permits through 1975 were the only ones protected from being removed.