Court filing opens chapter #174,076 in the Great Electronic Billboard Debate

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Last week, we reported that Scenic Pittsburgh and Mike Dawida, its executive director, were planning  to compel the city to remove the unfinished electronic billboard at the Grant Street Transportation Center.

Today, the organization took the matter to Common Pleas court, filing a petition against the city and Lamar Outdoor Advertising, the company that started to construct the billboard in 2008.

The petition -- which you can view here -- is a mandamus action, which compels a government official to take actions he or she is legally obligated to take. And the sign must come down, the petition argues, since "there is no legal authority for the sign to remain on the site and its continued presence on the Property is illegal."

Scenic Pittsburgh's attorneys, Patricia McGrail and Isobel Storch, go on to write: "As a result of the Parking Authority and Lamar's continued violation of the Pittsburgh Zoning Code, the Plaintiffs have suffered substantial and special injury in that the enormous black sign is an eyesore, visually offensive and detrimental to the look of the urban landscape of the Golden Triangle of downtown Pittsburgh."

Back in 2008 and 2009, the billboard fight was one of the most contentious disputes between members of city council and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Zoning law would ordinarily have required the billboard to go through an extensive review process, with public hearings and approval by city council. But the Ravenstahl Administration, in particular then-Urban Redevelopment Authority Director Pat Ford, established a billboard-swapping deal in which Lamar could put up one new electronic sign for every six older billboards it took down. With that agreement in place, the administration issued a permit allowing the billboard without the usual public review.

City officials said the arrangement reduced blight from old signs. But it led city councilors to file two separate lawsuits against Lamar and the city. As a result of those suits, Lamar's permit was ruled invalid, and a belated review process denied its application for a new one -- even though construction of the billboard was already underway. That has left a big, partially built eyesore right a the end of Grant Street ... at least until Scenic Pittsburgh filed its suit.

"We at Scenic Pittsburgh support the public zoning process as the fair and equitable means to uphold the values and expectations of our citizens," says Dawida."This partially completed sign hanging at a prominent downtown intersection has remained an eyesore for more than three years now. It is time to finally resolve the issue once and for all."

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