From the NY Times:
Since the 1940s, at least on paper, the city has restricted, or banned outright, the placement of billboards along its highways. But because of haphazard enforcement and what a federal judge described as “subterfuge” and willful lawbreaking by sign companies, the rise of the billboards — some even on city property — went on unchecked.
By the time the judge, Paul A. Crotty of Federal District Court in Manhattan, issued a decision in the spring that upheld the city’s right to regulate the billboards and excoriated it for not doing so sooner, no one could even say for sure which of the more than 600 highway billboards had the right to be there.
“The City’s enforcement of its zoning regulations has been inconsistent and less than vigorous,” the judge wrote in his 62-page opinion. “The billboard industry has taken advantage of this lax enforcement and has consistently ignored the regulations on billboard sign location.”
Billboard companies, which have earned far more from advertisers over the years than they have paid in fines, have appealed the ruling.