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American flag flies on controversial Mt. Washington billboard | TribLIVE.com
Allegheny

American flag flies on controversial Mt. Washington billboard

Bob Bauder
1103983_web1_ptr-MtWashSign-050319
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
The National Flag Federation sign on Mt. Washington as photographed Thursday, May 2, 2019.

Lamar Advertising has changed the display on a landmark billboard atop Pittsburgh’s Mt. Washington while awaiting a decision from a state court on whether the controversial signage can remain in place.

On Tuesday, Lamar replaced a black-and-gold Sprint advertisement with an American flag recognizing the National Flag Foundation, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit.

“Sprint’s lease expired and Lamar has been a longtime partner with the National Flag Foundation,” said Downtown attorney Jonathan Kamin, who represents Lamar. “We’re happy to have them up there to support their mission and cause.”

Tim McNulty, spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto, declined comment on the billboard.

The National Flag Foundation is a nonpartisan group that promotes the Star Spangled Banner and educates people about its history and significance. Alicia L. Munzphelps, a foundation administrator, said Lamar is providing the space at no charge in anticipation of the organization’s annual Flag Day celebration on June 14.

Pittsburgh and Lamar, the nation’s largest outdoor advertiser, have been in a dispute over the sign since 2016 when the company converted it from an electronic billboard for Bayer Co. to an advertisement for Sprint.

Pittsburgh contends that it violates city zoning regulations and Mayor Bill Peduto has called the Sprint billboard an “eyesore.”

Lamar argues the city is violating its due process, property and free speech rights by blocking attempts to modernize the 90-year-old billboard.

The Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment in 2016 ruled that the sign violated the city’s zoning code and ordered it to be removed.

Lamar appealed the ruling to the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court. Judge Joseph James last year overturned the zoning board ruling.

The dispute is now pending in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court.

Kamin said he expects a ruling within weeks and that James’ ruling permits the company to advertise on Mt. Washington.

“He recognized that it’s been a billboard for 90 years and it has a right to be a billboard,” Kamin said.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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