Judge does not like enormous electronic Margate causeway billboard

The enormous electronic Billboard along the Margate bridge causeway. (Amy S. Rosenberg / Staff)

The enormous electronic Billboard along the Margate bridge causeway that has been vexing the citizens of Northfield, Margate and everyone who drives in between had its day in court recently and lost. For obscure reasons, the causeway is within the meandering boundaries of Egg Harbor Township - that sprawling casino bedroom community whose own mayor admitted to the Press of Atlantic City recently that he could no longer afford its taxes. The EHT planning board gave the billboard a green light and left it to flash on and off every eight seconds so it could cast shadows on the bedroom wall of Dr. Ric Levitt, who lives on the bayfront on the Northfield side and sued.

Last week, Superior Court Judge Julio L. Mendez issued a 37-page opinion that sent the billboard matter back to the township, this time to the Zoning Board, which he said should have been the one to rule on the matter in the first place, since it is a use currently prohibited in a marine/commercial zone.

The billboard, erected in May, has been dark since June pending the legal action. It sits along a particularly picturesque stretch of causeway with osprey nests, old boat risers that look like Jesus's cross being carried, a few wooden billboards and long stretches of marshalnd. If only they allowed bicycles on the Margate bridge!

"This judge sent a message to the township: you done did everything wrong," said attorney Stephen Hankin. "When’s the last time you’ve seen a municipality fight for an LED billboard in coastal wetlands in a marine commercial zone? Why would a municipality support something as vile as that?"

Dr. Ric Levitt, in whose bedroom the billboard flashed, said the billboard company, Jersey Outdoor Media, had given political donations to various people in Egg Harbor Township, who had at various points recused themselves from the case.

He said the whole case was frustrating and disheartening, even as it seems they have been victorious. A planning official himself in Northfield, he said he thought the whole process in Egg Harbor Township was puzzling.  When the billboard was found to be in a wet zone, the bulders at first just filled in the land. They later had to remove that fill and move the billboard, which brought it too close to existing billboards. Still, it was approved.  "There were so many things done improperly and illegally," he said. "It really boggles the mind."

Township officials could not be reached for comment, and an attorney for Jersey Outdoor Media did not return a message seeking comment.