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Susan Sharpe ’12 Law Review Note on Digital Billboards Reprinted in Major Zoning and Planning Law Book

October 01, 2013 – 

The 2013 Zoning and Planning Law Handbook (Patricia E. Salkin, ed., Thomson Reuters) contains a chapter by Susan C. Sharpe, a 2012 cum laude graduate of Rutgers School of Law–Newark, in which she makes the case that digital billboards violate the federal Highway Beautification Act (HBA). Authors of other original and reprinted chapters include leading legal academics in the field John Echeverria (Vermont), Thomas W. Merrill (Columbia) and Patricia Salkin (Touro), and retired Justice John Paul Stevens, who writes about his Kelo decision.

Susan Sharpe
Susan Sharpe, Class of 2012

Sharpe’s Handbook chapter, “‘Between Beauty and Signs’: Why Digital Billboards Violate the Letter and Spirit of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965,” is a reprint of a note originally published in the Rutgers Law Review (64 Rutgers L. Rev. 515 (2012). The note originated as an independent study topic supervised by Professor Steve Gold, her Environmental Law teacher.

The 2013 Zoning and Planning Law Handbook, the 33rd annual volume in the series, covers an array of topics including evolving and projected trends, significant developments, relevant caselaw, and neighborhood opposition as a factor in zoning decisions.

After a brief history of federal billboard regulation, the highway system, and the HBA, Sharpe explores current issues in the digital billboard debate, including financial, safety, and aesthetic dimensions. The debate pits HBA defenders, including insurance companies, environmentalists, municipalities, and states’ control of outdoor advertising in the interest of safety and natural beauty against landowners who lease their land for billboards, advertisers, and sign operators of the far more profitable digital billboards.

Courts grapple with legal challenges raised by the use of technology in outdoor advertising that was unimagined in 1965 when the HBA was enacted and vastly different from when federal-state agreements (FSAs) defining billboard standards were negotiated. Sharpe urges the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and states to “properly regulate digital billboards to protect the general public and to preserve natural beauty as mandated by the HBA.”

Susan Sharpe is a Deputy Attorney General in the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General. Prior to that she clerked for the Hon. Stephen B. Rubin, judge of the Superior Court of Hunterdon County. At Rutgers School of Law–Newark, she was a managing editor of the Rutgers Law Review, a Moot Court Board member, a teaching associate in the legal research and writing program, and a classroom instructor in the Street Law Program. Before law school she worked as an information systems security analyst with the U.S. Department of Defense and later, after moving to New Jersey, as a municipal reporter and feature writer for NJN Publishing. Sharpe received her B.A. in economics from the University of Michigan.