When Stores Fight Cities: Planet K And City Of Bryan Reach Settlement Agreement Over Signage Dispute

With more than 1.3 million practicing lawyers in this country, it’s no surprise that there are so many different fields of law. From the well-known (like personal injury law) to the obscure (yes, there is an entire field dedicated to horse law), attorneys are committed to protecting and defending our rights. One of the less interesting but extremely important sectors is corporate law, which handles the “rights, relations, and conduct of persons, companies, organizations, and businesses.” This is precisely the field of law that the case between Planet K and the Texas city of Bryan falls under.

Fighting A Giant

Planet K, a subsidiary of AusPro Enterprises LP, moved into a new Texas Avenue location in July. The Central Texas-based stores sell pipes, e-cigarettes, incense, and a variety of other items, but had been cited for multiple permitting, zoning, and paperwork problems since its grand opening. One of the chief complaints had to do with Planet K’s massive outdoor signage, which displays the store’s name in huge red lettering.

The importance of quality signage cannot be overstated. Roughly 67% of survey respondents reported that business sign quality affected their purchases.

AusPro Enterprises claimed that the city was withholding building permits due to this discrepancy over the sign, creating a truly dazzling display of back-and-forth threats and resistance: the city was adamant about the sign ordinances, leading them to withdraw the company’s certificate of occupancy, the legal document that allows Planet K to sell out of the building; in response, Planet K encouraged its employees to begin selling merchandise out of the parking lot; since such an act is considered solicitation, the city filed 34 criminal citations against the workers.

The War Is Over

This whiplash-like behavior finally came to a head in November when AusPro decided to sue the city and the Zoning Board of Adjustment, alleging that its building permits were being “held hostage to an unconstitutional sign ordinance.” As of February 2019, they have reached a settlement agreement.

“It is the intent of the parties to put an end to all litigation and disputes between the parties as described in the sign lawsuit and the compliance complaints, and this agreement should be liberally construed to accomplish such purpose,” the agreement states. In the end, Planet K agreed to remove the sign and replace it with a new, smaller sign compliant with the city’s code of ordinances. For their part, the city will re-issue the store’s building permit and certificate of occupancy and will dismiss the criminal citations against the employees.

Knowing how important signage is (merchandise with a sign outsold merchandise without a sign by 20%) to a business’s success makes Planet K’s stubborn refusal to change more understandable. At the same time, laws must be followed — no matter how comparatively aggressive the city’s actions were, you can’t ignore the law because you don’t like it. Both parties agreed to pay their own attorney and legal fees; since suing a city — and defending a city’s actions — can carry heavy costs, we hope both sides have learned their lesson.

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