Right to Display Political Sign, Moore v. Richmond
Club Velvet is a strip club in the Shockoe Bottom area of Richmond. The owner, Sam Moore, has hung a large (20’ x 15’), yellow banner from the roof of the club, reading “No Stadium in Shockoe – Why make developers rich at taxpayers’ expense?” Richmond’s sign ordinance requires a permit for all signs. In the club’s zoning district, the sign ordinance also limits the area of any sign to three square feet per foot of frontage. In the case of Club Velvet, this would be about 175 square feet, far smaller than the sign in question. However, the sign ordinance also contains a section exempting certain kinds of signs from all sign regulations. The exempted signs include “Political campaign or election signs located on private property.” The club owner was cited for violating both the permit requirement and the size limitation. He filed an appeal, and we represented him at his Board of Zoning Appeals hearing on April 1, 2009, arguing that the political campaign exemption must be read broadly enough to encompass Moore’s sign, or else it would be impermissibly content discriminatory. At the hearing, the BZA continued the case to consider whether new language that Moore had added to the sign – “Vote No on House Bill 1803 and Senate Bill 1021” – brought the sign within the political campaign exemption. On April 22, 2009, the Zoning Administrator sent Moore a letter indicating that, for now, the sign is exempt as a political campaign sign. However, on July 1, 2009, when the bills mentioned on the sign become law, it will no longer be exempt. Moore opted to remove the sign rather than pursue litigation.