Braintree businessmen in a tug of war over billboard rights

Globe Staff Photo Illustration/Adobe Stock

Call it the Great Billboard Brawl of Braintree.

One one side is Tom Sullivan, founder of the Lumber Liquidators and Cabinets To Go chains. On the other, his next-door neighbor on Wood Road: R.J. Valentine, who runs the X1 Boston go-kart complex and other businesses under the MBA Group umbrella.

The two prominent businessmen are battling for the right to install a digital billboard overlooking a busy stretch of Interstate 93 in Braintree, one that could generate millions of dollars in ad revenue. State rules prevent an electronic billboard from going up within 1,000 feet of another one, so the first up boxes the other one out.

Valentine seemed to have had the upper hand. On Thursday, the state Office of Outdoor Advertising is scheduled to hear a presentation on the 40-foot billboard Valentine wants to install next to his X1 building on Wood Road. He has already received approval from the Braintree Planning Board.

Sullivan, meanwhile, is still waiting for his proposed billboard at the property next to X1 to be approved.

But Sullivan has sued Braintree, claiming town officials erred in approving his neighbor’s billboard. And on Wednesday, Sullivan secured a preliminary injunction in Massachusetts Land Court that prevents Braintree from issuing a building permit for Valentine’s billboard while the court hears his lawsuit.

Land Court Judge Robert Foster found there is a likelihood of Sullivan proving his claim, adding that Sullivan would suffer “irreparable harm” if Valentine’s billboard were constructed.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which oversees the outdoor advertising office, set the stage for fights such as this when it approved rules nearly six years ago that allowed for a proliferation of electronic billboards.

Before then, the state had allowed digital billboards only in a few select locations.

The new rules presented a mixed blessing for municipalities such as Braintree that have prime spots along traffic-choked highways.

Critics say digital billboards mar the landscape, but they also represent an important revenue opportunity for cities and towns.

Valentine is offering to pay Braintree $2.5 million over 20 years, while Sullivan pledged $2.3 million over the same period; Sullivan says he has also offered another $4 million over the following 30 years.

Sullivan believes his offer is superior to Valentine’s and argues that Braintree officials are favoring Valentine.

“I don’t mind losing if it’s a fair fight,” Sullivan said. “I don’t want to lose to some sleazy, behind-the-scenes thing we don’t know about. . . . It’s important to me to see why this guy is winning.”

Valentine did not respond to requests for comment. Braintree officials declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

To prove his point, Sullivan cites an opinion issued last month by the Braintree Fire Department that said his billboard would be a public-safety hazard because of its proximity to a hydrogen-vehicle fueling station that he is also installing on his property.

The sign, a deputy fire chief wrote, could become a dangerous projectile if it collapses in heavy wind.

In court papers, Sullivan points out that under the Fire Department’s logic, Valentine’s sign would be equally dangerous to the hydrogen station. But in an interview, Sullivan argued that the odds of heavy winds pitching a gigantic billboard into the fueling station are remote, at best.

“It’s never going to fall over,” Sullivan said of his own sign.

“If it did fall over, it’s not going to hit the hydrogen station. It weighs tons . . . There’s no way that could happen.”

Jon Chesto can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.

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