Two Denver-area billboards lead to years of litigation and legislation

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The StreetMedia billboard at 7300 Broadway is seen from U.S. 36. (StreetMedia)

Two digital billboards at the intersection of I-25 and U.S. 36 have spurred a change to state laws and been the subject of four legal cases, the latest of which was filed two weeks ago.

The litigious saga, which dates back several years, pits the Loveland-based billboard company StreetMediaGroup against the Colorado Department of Transportation. The state agency has fared far better than the company in their courtroom skirmishes.

The patch of pavement northwest of where I-25 meets U.S. 36 has a street address of 7300 Broadway and plays home to Podium Karting and a Mastercraft boat dealer. In 2015, the property’s owner built two billboards, one facing I-25 and one facing U.S. 36.

The following January, CDOT determined permits would be needed if the billboards were going to include ads for products that are not sold at 7300 Broadway. So, a subsidiary of StreetMedia applied. CDOT then denied that application, finding the two billboards would be distractingly close to on-ramps. From that one decision has flowed a cascade of lawsuits.

StreetMedia first appealed to an administrative law judge in 2019 and three years later, in September 2022, he recommended that CDOT approve the permits.

In 2020, while that case was still pending, StreetMedia filed a federal lawsuit accusing CDOT of violating its 1st Amendment rights to free speech by denying the billboard permits. The lawsuit alleged that CDOT cherrypicks which billboards to ban based on what the signs say.

The next year, while both of those cases were pending, CDOT urged the Colorado General Assembly to tweak the state’s billboard laws to ensure that the content on billboards plays no role in whether a permit is granted. A CDOT legislative liaison said the tweaks were necessary due to the StreetMedia case. The bill was quickly passed and signed into law in 2021.

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The StreetMedia billboard at 7300 Broadway is seen from Interstate 25. (StreetMedia)

Because the law was changed, the judge in the federal case, U.S. District Judge Brooke Jackson, determined in December 2021 that CDOT’s permitting process was constitutional. StreetMedia has appealed that decision to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Twenty-three days after Jackson’s ruling, StreetMedia also sued CDOT in Denver District Court. It alleged that new rules CDOT wrote after the 2021 law change are unenforceably vague. Last month, Judge Bruce Jones sided with CDOT and dismissed the case.

Twenty-three days after Jones did so, StreetMedia sued CDOT yet again. It is now asking Denver District Court Judge Sarah Wallace to determine that CDOT’s permit denials at 7300 Broadway were unconstitutionally arbitrary and force CDOT to grant it the permits, as the administrative law judge determined that CDOT should do last year.

CDOT spokesman Matt Inzeo declined to comment on the lawsuit and StreetMedia.

StreetMedia’s lawyers are Craig Joyce, Todd Messenger and Amanda Jokerst with Fairfield and Woods in Denver, along with David Payne from Payne and Powell in Fort Collins. Through those attorneys, StreetMedia declined to discuss its protracted legal battle against CDOT.

In an unrelated case, StreetMedia sued the Adams County Commission and that county’s economic development director in May 2021, alleging county regulations on billboards there are unconstitutional restrictions on free speech and vague. StreetMedia lost the case March 30 when a federal judge found the regulations are constitutional and not vague.

StreetMedia operates seven billboards in the metro area, all on the northside, and 30 total along the Front Range, according to its website. It also works in Nebraska and Arizona.

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