Mt. Washington billboard can legally remain, court says |

Mt. Washington billboard can legally remain, court says

Jamie Martines
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
The National Flag Federation sign on Lamar’s Mt. Washington billboard, as seen in May 2019.

The controversial billboard that sits atop Mt. Washington — previously, ads for Bayer and Sprint, and currently an American flag — is legal, according to a decision issued Thursday by a three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.

In a lengthy legal battle, the City of Pittsburgh argued that Lamar Advertising illegally operated the sign in violation of city zoning regulations since 2016, when it placed a vinyl sign on top of the billboard’s existing neon letters.

Attorneys representing Lamar Advertising said that the city violated the company’s due process, property and free speech rights by preventing the company from taking steps to modernize the billboard.

The City of Pittsburgh appealed to the Commonwealth Court after a 2018 Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas decision ruled that the city Zoning Board of Adjustment erred in ordering Lamar Advertising to remove the sign, which has existed for 90 years.

Thursday’s decision upheld that ruling.

“The City plans to either ask for reconsideration by the full Commonwealth Court, or to appeal to the Supreme Court,” a statement from Mayor Bill Peduto’s office said.

Lamar Advertising counts the decision as a victory, attorney Jonathan Kamin said.

“We would hope that we could move forward with the city in a positive way, but that’s the city’s choice,” Kamin said when asked about the possibility of facing another appeal. He said the company has worked with community groups and neighbors on the North Side and in Mt. Washington to develop an acceptable design and appearance.

“I think we’re going to have to evaluate our options,” Kamin said. “We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to get a consensus.”

Lamar Advertising last changed the billboard in May, replacing the black-and-gold Sprint advertisement with an American flag recognizing the National Flag Foundation, a nonpartisan, Pittsburgh-based nonprofit.

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 to the Sprint ad.

Peduto, at the time, called the Sprint billboard an “eyesore.”

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, jm[email protected] or via Twitter .

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