Astoria Owners Fight to Get Signs Grandfathered for Compliance

Two Astoria landlords are fighting the city over billboards on their residential buildings, both located on the north side of Astoria Blvd. near the Grand Central Parkway. In 2011, the city presented each owner with a fine and informed them that the billboards—both of which dated to the World War II era—were out of compliance with the law. One owner was initially fined $30,000 in 2011 for the billboard. He appealed, and the fines were reduced to $800. But the owner is afraid the city could ticket him again unless the sign is grandfathered in. The Department of Buildings (DOB) also fined $50,000 to another nearby owner in 2011. These fines were reduced to $20,000.

The city won a ruling in 2010 that allowed the Buildings Department to crack down on longstanding signs near highways—if they didn’t have permits. The owners are now fighting the city in Queens Supreme Court, demanding that the billboards be grandfathered for permanent compliance.

There has been a billboard on one building since 1941, and when one owner bought the building in the late 1990s, DOB officials assured him the paperwork was in order. But the DOB fined the owner—despite his permit—because billboards cannot be grandfathered into residential zones. The agency was empowered to issue fines after it won the 2010 billboard suit. According to the DOB, by law, advertising signs are allowed only 10 years after a residential zone is designated. And the other owner was fined because he didn’t have a billboard permit and couldn’t sufficiently prove his sign had been there since 1940.