The owner of a non-compliant, off-premise billboard has received a formal notice from the City of Waxahachie to remove its sign from the highway.
The billboard is located south of downtown Waxahachie on rural property along Interstate 35-E, fewer than two miles outside of the city limits. The sign reads “Did you think to Pray?” with an image of two hands clasped together in prayer. Waxahachie attorney Dan Gus said the owners received a notice from the city on Thursday, Jan. 17 to remove the sign in question.
If they do not comply, the owners could potentially face a $2,000 fine for every day of non-compliance, states a city-issued press release.
“It’s not because the city is bad, anti-religion or anything like that,” Gus said. “I don’t think anyone out there is intentionally trying to harm religion. We just have an absurd statute in the books for more than 20 years ago.”
According to city ordinance number 1863, “off-premise signs” are not allowed to be within the extraterritorial jurisdiction or city limits of Waxahachie. A sign violates this ordinance if it displays advertising copy that pertains to a business, person, organization, activity, event, place, service or product not located, manufactured or sold on the sign’s premises.
“If you’re advertising something on the premises where the sign is located, that’s okay,” Gus explained. “But if it advertises anything off the premise, then it’s illegal.”
Gus stated the ordinance does not regulate the structure of the sign and the legal issue comes in with the sign’s message. He said you could have the sign up there with absolutely nothing on it and it would be within compliance.
He said that distinction raises concerns on the constitutionality of the ordinance.
However, city communications director Amy Borders disputes that claim. She stated that the owner did not seek out a permit for the sign’s display, and that is why they were sent a letter from the city’s attorney.
“They never applied for a permit,” Borders stated. “It hasn’t been safety inspected, there have been no building inspectors, it hasn’t been tested. None of the above.”
She said the sign’s religious message wasn’t in question with the owner’s compliance, and the structure would still be out of compliance even if were blank.
“It’s not like we saw the sign, got mad and decided to implement the ordinance,” Borders said.
Gus said the city has threatened legal action if the owner of the sign does not have it promptly removed. The city-issued press release states that they’ve reached out to the billboard’s owner to potentially resolve the matter.
*The headline of this article was updated online to properly reflect that the dispute is over the billboard structure, not the signage.