Signs shall not be erected or maintained which are structurally unsafe or in substantial disrepair.
Signs outside of business areas which are lawfully in existence on March 18, 1972 but which do not conform to the requirements herein are declared nonconforming and shall be removed by the end of the 5th year from said date.
A sign lawfully erected after March 18, 1972 and which subsequently does not conform to this section shall be removed by the end of the 5th year after it becomes nonconforming.
Signs lawfully erected, but which do not conform to the requirements of sub. (3) (c)
, are declared nonconforming but are not subject to removal, except as otherwise provided in this paragraph. To allow such signs to exist, to perform customary maintenance thereon or to change the advertising message thereof, does not constitute a violation of sub. (3)
, but to enlarge, replace or relocate such signs, or to erect additional signs, shall constitute a violation subjecting the sign to removal without compensation, unless upon completion of such work all signs upon the property conform to the requirements of sub. (3)
“Copy" means the advertising or other information or images on a sign face created to communicate to the public.
“Copy change" means the process of substituting copy on a sign face, which may include removing a face and substituting another face or other processes such as painting on wood, metal, or vinyl, affixing printed paper or vinyl to the face, changing the message mechanically, or electronically changing the copy from a remote location.
“Customary maintenance" on a sign includes nailing, bolting, fastening, cleaning, and painting; replacing its components with equivalent or similar components; except as provided in this subd. 1. c.
, replacing structural components, including upright supports; making copy changes; upgrading existing illumination for energy efficiency or worker safety; adding catwalks or handrails to address safety; installing an apron to a sign structure to display identification of the sign owner; or replacing the sign face. “Customary maintenance" does not include repairs that involve, within a period of 36 consecutive months, replacing more than 60 percent of the wooden upright supports of a sign or replacing more than 30 percent of the length above ground of each broken, bent, or twisted upright metal support of a sign.
“Destroyed," with respect to a nonconforming sign, means that upright supports are physically damaged such that, within a period of 36 consecutive months, in the case of a sign structure with wooden upright supports, more than 60 percent of the supports are broken and, under normal repair practices, would need to be replaced or, in the case of a sign structure with metal upright supports, more than 30 percent of the length above ground of each broken, bent, or twisted support would, under normal repair practices, need to be replaced.
“Sign face" or “face" means the material components of a sign on which the advertising or other information is displayed including any trim, border, or molding.
“Substantial change," with respect to a nonconforming sign, includes increasing the number of upright supports; changing the physical location; increasing the square footage or area of the sign face; adding changeable message capability; or adding illumination, either attached or unattached, to a sign that was previously not illuminated. “Substantial change” does not include customary maintenance.
“Substantially the same," with respect to a nonconforming sign, means that no substantial change has been made to the sign since it became nonconforming.
Notwithstanding par. (a)
, signs described in sub. (3) (a)
, or (h)
that were lawfully erected but that no longer conform to applicable requirements are, upon notice by registered mail from the department to the sign owner, declared nonconforming but are not subject to removal, except as provided in subds. 4.
Subject to subd. 4.
, a sign described in subd. 2.
shall remain substantially the same as it was on the date it became nonconforming. To allow a sign described in subd. 2.
to exist, to perform customary maintenance on such a sign, or to change the advertising message on such a sign, does not constitute a violation of sub. (3)
Except as provided in this subdivision, to make a substantial change to a sign described in subd. 2.
or to erect additional signs shall constitute a violation of subs. (3)
. In determining whether a change to a sign constitutes a violation of sub. (3)
, the department may not consider any changes to that sign that no longer exist. If the department determines that a change to a sign constitutes a violation of sub. (3)
, the department shall notify by registered mail the sign owner and the owner of the property upon which the sign is located of the alleged violation. If the alleged violation is remedied within 60 days of receipt of the notice under this subdivision, the activity does not constitute a violation of sub. (3)
Except as provided in subd. 5. b.
, and notwithstanding subd. 3.
, a sign described in subd. 2.
that is destroyed is subject to removal without compensation.
Notwithstanding subds. 3.
, if a nonconforming sign is damaged or destroyed by a criminal or tortious act, the sign may be repaired or replaced. If the sign is replaced, the replacement sign may not incorporate any elements that constitute a substantial change from the sign that was damaged or destroyed. The repair or replacement of a sign under this subdivision is not limited to activities constituting customary maintenance.
Should any commercial or industrial activity, which has been used in defining or delineating an unzoned area, cease to operate, the unzoned area shall be redefined or redelineated based on the remaining activities. Any signs located within the former unzoned area but located outside the unzoned area, based on its new dimensions, shall become nonconforming.
The department shall give highest priority to the removal or relocation of signs advertising products of general availability in commercial channels when such signs fail to conform under this subsection.
Mars Cheese Castle signs in Kenosha County.
Notwithstanding any other provision of law and any local ordinance or other restrictions on signs, the Mars Cheese Castle business in Kenosha County may relocate its on-premises signs located near the intersection of I 94 and STH 142 in Kenosha County and maintain such signs at their new location.
Signs nonconforming under local ordinances that are realigned because of state highway projects. 84.30(5r)(a)(a)
In this subsection, “realignment" means relocation on the same site.
If a highway project of the department causes the realignment of a sign that does not conform to a local ordinance, the realignment shall not affect the sign's nonconforming status under the ordinance.
If in connection with a highway project of the department the department proposes the realignment of a sign that does not conform to a local ordinance, the department shall notify the governing body of the municipality or county where the sign is located and which adopted the ordinance of the sign's proposed realignment. Upon receiving this notice, the governing body may petition the department to acquire the sign and any real property interest of the sign owner. If the department succeeds in condemning the sign, the governing body that made the petition to the department shall pay to the department an amount equal to the condemnation award, less relocation costs for the sign that would have been paid by the department if the sign had been realigned rather than condemned. Notwithstanding s. 86.30 (2) (a) 1.
and (b) 1.
, and 1r.
, if the governing body fails to pay this amount, the department may reduce the municipality's or county's general transportation aid payment under s. 86.30
by an equal amount.
This subsection does not permit the alteration or movement of a sign that is nonconforming under this section.
The department shall pay just compensation upon the removal or relocation on or after March 18, 1972, of any of the following signs which are not then in conformity with this section, regardless of whether the sign was removed because of this section:
Signs lawfully in existence on March 18, 1972.
Signs lawfully in existence on land adjoining any highway made an interstate or primary highway after March 18, 1972.
Signs lawfully erected on or after March 18, 1972.
The just compensation required by sub. (6)
shall be paid for the following:
The taking from the owner of such sign, all right, title and interest in and to the sign and the owner's leasehold relating thereto, including severance damages to the remaining signs which have a unity of use and ownership with the sign taken, shall be included in the amounts paid to the respective owner, excluding any damage to factories involved in manufacturing, erection, maintenance or servicing of any outdoor advertising signs or displays.
The taking of the right to erect and maintain such signs thereon from the owner of the real property on which the sign is located.
Compensation required under subs. (6)
shall be paid to the person entitled thereto. If the department and the owner reach agreement on the amount of compensation payable to such owner in respect to any removal or relocation, the department may pay such compensation to the owner and thereby require or terminate the owner's rights or interests by purchase. If the department and the owner do not reach agreement as to such amount of compensation, the department or owner may institute an action to have such compensation determined under s. 32.05
On and after March 18, 1972 all signs, or structures on which there are displays, shall have stated thereon the names and addresses of the owner thereof, and the date of its erection; but if the address of the owner is on file with the department it need not be stated thereon.
On or after January 1, 1972, no person shall engage or continue to engage in the business of outdoor advertising in areas subject to this section without first obtaining a license therefor from the department. The fee for the issuance of a license or for the renewal thereof shall be $250 payable in advance. Each license shall remain in force until the next succeeding December 31 and may be renewed annually.
Application for license or a renewal thereof shall be made on forms to be furnished by the department, shall contain such information as the department requires and shall be verified under oath by the applicant or an authorized officer or agent. Renewal applications shall be filed on or before the December 1 preceding the expiration date. Upon receipt of an application containing all required information, in due form and properly executed, together with any bond required by par. (c)
and upon payment of the required license fee, the department shall issue a license to the applicant or renew the existing license.
No license to engage or continue to engage in the business of outdoor advertising shall be granted to any applicant who does not reside in this state or, in the case of a foreign corporation or foreign limited liability company not authorized to do business in this state until such applicant files with the department a bond payable to the state and with a surety approved by the attorney general, in the sum of $5,000 conditioned upon the licensee observing and fulfilling all applicable provisions of this section. Upon default thereof the department may enforce the collection of such bond in any court of competent jurisdiction. The bond shall remain in effect so long as any obligation of such licensee to the state remains unsatisfied.
The department may, after a hearing with 30 days' prior written notice to the licensee, revoke the license if the department finds that the licensee has knowingly made false statements in the application or is violating this section. Such revocation shall not become effective if within 30 days after written notice of the findings has been given to the licensee, he or she corrects such false statement or terminates any such violation.
Annual permit fee requirement.
The department may promulgate a rule requiring persons specified in the rule to pay annual permit fees for signs. The rule shall specify that no permit fee may be charged for an off-premises advertising sign that is owned by a nonprofit organization. If the department establishes an annual permit fee under this subsection, failure to pay the fee within 2 months after the date on which payment is due is evidence that the sign has been abandoned for the purposes of s. Trans 201.10 (2) (f)
, Wis. Adm. Code.
Any sign erected in an adjacent area after March 18, 1972, in violation of this section or the rules promulgated under this section, may be removed by the department upon 60 days' prior notice by registered mail to the owner thereof and to the owner of the land on which said sign is located, unless such sign is brought into conformance within said 60 days. No notice shall be required to be given to the owner of a sign whose name is not stated on the sign or on the structure on which it is displayed, or whose address is not stated thereon or is not on file with the department.
The department on behalf of the state is authorized and directed to seek agreement with the secretary of transportation of the United States acting under the provisions of 23 USC 131
, as amended, that the provisions of this section are in conformance with that federal law and provide effective control of outdoor advertising signs as set forth therein.
The department may accept any allotment of funds by the United States, or any agency thereof, appropriated to carry out the purposes of 23 USC 131
, as amended, from time to time. The department shall take such steps as are necessary from time to time to obtain from the United States, or the appropriate agency thereof, funds allotted and appropriated, under 23 USC 131
for the purposes of paying the federal government's 75 percent of the just compensation to be paid to sign owners and owners of real property under 23 USC 131
(g) and this section.
The department may promulgate rules deemed necessary to implement and enforce this section. The department shall promulgate rules to restrict the erection and maintenance of signs as to their lighting, size, number and spacing when such signs are visible from the highway but outside the adjacent area. The department shall by rule establish a priority system for the removal or relocation of all signs not specified in sub. (5) (d)
which fail to conform to the requirements of sub. (5)
Despite any contrary provision in this section no sign shall be required to be removed unless at the time of removal there are sufficient funds, from whatever source, appropriated and immediately made available to the department with which to pay the just compensation required and unless at such time the federal funds, required to be contributed to this state under 23 USC 131
have been appropriated and are immediately available to the state for the payment of compensation which is eligible for federal participation.
If any provision or clause of this section or application thereof to any person or circumstances is held invalid, such invalidity shall not affect other provisions or applications of the section which can be given effect without the invalid provision or application, and to this end the provisions of this section are declared to be severable. If any portion of this section is found not to comply with federal law and federal billboard removal compensation that portion shall be void without affecting the validity of other provisions of the section.
All fees collected for the issuance of permits provided for under this section shall be paid into the transportation fund.
Hearings concerning sign removal notices under sub. (11)
or the denial or revocation of a sign permit or license shall be conducted before the division of hearings and appeals as are hearings in contested cases under ch. 227
. The decision of the division of hearings and appeals is subject to judicial review under ch. 227
. Any person requesting a transcript of the proceedings from the division of hearings and appeals shall pay the amount established by the division of hearings and appeals by rule for the transcript.
History: 1971 c. 197
; 1975 c. 196
; 1977 c. 29
, 1654 (1)
, (8) (a); 1977 c. 43
; 1977 c. 418
s. 924 (48)
; 1979 c. 90
; 1979 c. 154
; 1981 c. 347
; 1983 a. 92
; 1989 a. 56
; 1991 a. 316
; 1993 a. 16
; 1997 a. 27
; 1999 a. 9
; 2001 a. 109
; 2005 a. 149
; 2007 a. 20
; 2011 a. 32
; 2017 a. 232
See also ch. Trans 201
, Wis. adm. code.
This section is the exclusive remedy for determining just compensation for signs meeting the criteria of sub. (6). Compensation includes the value of the sign structure, leasehold value, and location, but it does not include attorney fees. Vivid, Inc. v. Fiedler, 219 Wis. 2d 764
, 580 N.W.2d 644
This section did not prevent the leaseholder of a sign subject to an administrative order for removal due to discontinuance of a legal nonconforming use from pursuing judicial review of the administrative review of the order under s. 227.52. Eller Media, Inc. v. Division of Hearings and Appeals, 2001 WI App 269
, 249 Wis. 2d 198
, 637 N.W.2d 96
Sub. (3) (a) provides 2 separate conditions. A sign must: 1) be required or authorized by law, and 2) comply with rules promulgated by the Department of Transportation that are no more restrictive than national standards. The “no more restrictive" language does not apply to the “required or authorized by law" condition. “Authorized by law" is a reference to whether a sign is authorized by a law other than this section and rules promulgated thereunder. Because there is no limitation on the source of other law, there is no reason why other law may not be a local zoning ordinance. Donaldson v. Town of Spring Valley, 2008 WI App 61
, 311 Wis. 2d 223
, 750 N.W.2d 506
The administrative and judicial review provided in sub. (18) is the exclusive procedure for challenging the legality of a sign after issuance of a removal order, even when the Department of Transportation has removed the sign. A determination under sub. (18) that a sign is legal is a necessary predicate to just compensation for the sign. The entire statutory scheme provides for a determination on the legality of a sign under sub. (18) and, if the ultimate determination is that the sign is legal, there is a procedure in subs. (7) and (8) for obtaining just compensation. This scheme adequately provides the means both to challenge a removal order on the ground a sign is legal and to obtain just compensation if that challenge succeeds. Lamar Central Outdoor, LLC v. DOT, 2008 WI App 187
, 315 Wis. 2d 190
, 762 N.W.2d 745
The phrase “brought into conformance” in sub. (11) could mean that a billboard must conform to the laws either: 1) as they applied to the circumstances when the permit issued; or 2) as they apply to current circumstances. Because the statute is ambiguous, the Department of Transportation is required to promulgate a new interpretation of the statute as a rule under s. 227.10. Lamar Central Outdoor, LLC v. Division of Hearings & Appeals, 2019 WI 109
, 389 Wis. 2d 486
, 936 N.W.2d 573
Persons in the business of erecting on-premise signs are subject to the licensing requirement of sub. (10) (a). 66 Atty. Gen. 295.
Outdoor sign regulation in Eden and Wisconsin. Larsen, 1972 WLR 153.
Vegetation obstructing view of outdoor advertising signs. 84.305(1)(am)
“Invasive species" has the meaning given in s. 23.22 (1) (c)
and, in addition, means species not indigenous to Wisconsin including hybrids, cultivars, subspecific taxa, and genetically modified variants whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health, and also includes individual specimens, seeds, propagules, and any other viable life-stages of such species.
“Sign" has the meaning given in s. 84.30 (2) (j)
, but also includes any sign that is attached to a building or similar structure, that is within 100 feet of a highway right-of-way, and that advertises activities conducted on the property on which it is located.
“Vegetation" means any tree, shrub, hedge, woody plant, or grass.
“Viewing zone" means, with respect to a sign, the area commencing at the point on the main-traveled way of the highway nearest the sign for the direction of travel for which the sign face is oriented and extending, in a direction opposite of the direction of travel of the main-traveled way from which the sign face is visible and intended to be viewed, in a line along the highway pavement edge for a distance of 1,000 feet.
Notwithstanding ss. 66.1037
, and subject to sub. (2m)
, upon application, the department shall issue permits to sign owners for the trimming or removal of vegetation that is located in the right-of-way of a highway under the jurisdiction of the department for maintenance purposes and that obstructs a sign if, within a distance of 500 continuous feet along any portion of the viewing zone, any portion of the face of the sign is not viewable because of an obstruction to sight by vegetation in the highway right-of-way.
The department may not issue a permit under this section authorizing the trimming or removal of vegetation obstructing the view of a sign if the department first collected a permit fee under s. 84.30 (10m)
for that sign within the immediately preceding 5 years. This paragraph does not apply with respect to a sign that is attached to a building or similar structure, that is within 100 feet of a highway right-of-way, and that advertises activities conducted on the property on which it is located.
The department may impose on a permit under this section any condition or restriction determined to be necessary or suitable by the department if the permit application seeks authorization for the trimming or removal of vegetation at or with respect to any of the following:
An archaeological site or site of a federally recognized American Indian tribe or band.
A location that is part of a known habitat of endangered species or threatened species under s. 29.604
The department may deny an application under this section for a permit for a sign for which the department has issued a removal order and the removal order was received by the sign owner prior to the department's receipt of the application.
Subject to pars. (d)
and subs. (2m) (b)
, and (6)
, a permit issued under this section authorizes the permittee to trim or remove obstructing vegetation to the extent necessary to eliminate the obstruction and provide an unobstructed view of a sign for 500 continuous feet within the viewing zone. A permit issued under this section shall specify the vegetation or the portion of the highway right-of-way to which the permit applies.
An application for a permit under this section shall specifically describe the work proposed by the applicant. The department shall grant or deny an application for a permit under this section, and notify the applicant of the department's decision, within 60 days of receipt of the application. If the department denies an application for a permit under this section, the department shall notify the applicant of reasons for the denial.
A permit issued under this section may not authorize trimming or removal of vegetation located within a municipality and within 10 feet of the nearest edge of the highway pavement without prior approval for the trimming or removal from the municipality.
A permit issued under this section may not authorize the permittee to clear-cut any highway right-of-way. The permit authorizes the permittee to trim or remove only the vegetation specified in the permit, or only vegetation within the area of the right-of-way specified in the permit, in accordance with the terms of the permit. All trimming of vegetation authorized under a permit shall be performed in compliance with applicable standards of the American National Standards Institute, but if the trimming cannot be accomplished in compliance with these standards, the vegetation may be removed as provided in sub. (5)
All trimming and removal of vegetation under a permit issued under sub. (2)
shall be conducted within the hours of the day and days of the week specified by the department in the permit.
A permit issued under this section may not authorize the permittee to trim or remove vegetation in the median of a divided highway.
Each permit issued under this section shall authorize the permittee to employ 3rd-party contractors, including any arborist or landscape contractor, to perform work authorized under the permit. Each permit issued under this section shall require the permittee to retain a certified arborist for the purposes specified in sub. (5) (d)
. A permittee shall be responsible for any such work performed by a contractor on behalf of the permittee that is not authorized by the permit as if the work were performed directly by the permittee.
Each permit issued under this section shall require a permittee that removes any tree with a diameter of 2 inches or more as measured at breast height to compensate the department for all such trees removed, in compliance with the requirements under pars. (d)
Each permit issued under this section shall require a permittee that removes vegetation to also remove the vegetation's stump, to grade level, and to dispose of all vegetation removed, including the stump, at a location away from the highway right-of-way.