The owner of a small billboard company hopes to finish what he started, but a permit issued in error could keep him from completing a sign going up at West Smith and North Brooks streets
Brett Gilbreath, who owns Gilbreath Outdoor, asked City Council during its meeting Tuesday to lift a stop-work order issued in November. City leaders approved the order in November after seeing work on the billboard underway since it violates a ban on the advertising signs council approved in July 2018.
“We’re asking for a variance so we can finish what’s left of the construction on the sign that’s located down the street,” Gilbreath’s lawyer, Chris Rothfelder, told council members. “Back in August, Mr. Gilbreath and his contractor, Advertising Higher, came here to the city and met with Mr. Massingill to ask about getting a permit for the billboard. … He signed the drawing and issued the permit.”
City Manager Olan Massingill, a recent hire at the time, didn’t know of the billboard ban when he issued the permits, he said.
Gilbreath invested a great deal of money and time in lease negotiations and other arrangements, he told the council, and didn’t suspect something might be amiss.
“I tend to just place my faith in the paperwork,” he said.
The trouble started when Advertising Higher started construction.
“At that moment, just when the pole was in the ground, we issued a stop-work order. We pulled their permit and told ’em you can’t work no more,” Mayor Roger Shugart said Wednesday as he recounted the incident. “They told us, ‘Hey, you’ve got no authority on us, we’re gonna keep working.’ We informed them that ‘If you do, you’re gonna get a ticket.’”
When calls and warnings failed to halt construction, the Brazoria Police Department issued a citation. Police explained to workers they were in violation of city ordinance and could be arrested, but they didn’t want to go to that extreme. Instead, they held the foreman responsible, telling him to stop work. The next day, Advertising Higher began work again and received another citation. That night, Shugart drove by the billboard and saw them at work in the dark.
“You go down there and tell those guys they got 30 minutes to roll up their tools and get outta town,” Shugart said he told Massingill. “He went down there. They loaded up, left town and we haven’t seen ’em since.”
Shugart blames the trouble on Advertising Higher and their disregard for ordinance, council and police. The reason for their obstinacy, he suspects, is the contractor gets no money until construction is finished. He also believes they acted in bad faith, knowing the billboard wasn’t allowed and trying to sneak it in anyway.
“What makes me think that is, they come back and wanted to know the dimensions for that sign,” he said. “Well, if it’s banned, it wouldn’t be in the ordinance. And they knew that.”
Advertising Higher representatives did not respond to a call seeking comment Wednesday.
Gilbreath’s variance request ran into objections from council members, who said the billboard blocks views of the American flags at both the fire station and Heritage Foundation. It also hides a statue dear to the community’s heart, Councilwoman Roschelle Hicks said.
“The flag at the fire department sits next to a very special statue, and that statue represents one of our firefighters that passed away in the line of duty,” she said. “The billboard blocks people from seeing that.”
Chief Administrator Gary Kersh suggested taking out half of the billboard, which has framing for two signs, and letting the remainder stay, but Gilbreath seemed reluctant. Council tabled the issue and will discuss it again at a special meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
“Nobody wants to end up in court,” Rothfelder said, “but unless we can work out a deal, either you guys are gonna be suing Mr. Gilbreath to remove that structure that’s now cemented in the ground or Mr. Gilbreath is gonna have to decide whether he wants to go to court with the city to figure out how to sort out this mess.”