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Lamar given 60 days to fix up iconic Mt. Washington sign

Bob Bauder
| Wednesday, June 22, 2016, 4:24 p.m.
The Bayer sign a top Mt. Washington, seen here Thursday, July 31, 2014. Bayer has ended its lease of the sign that displays its name.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
The Bayer sign a top Mt. Washington, seen here Thursday, July 31, 2014. Bayer has ended its lease of the sign that displays its name.
The Bayer sign is covered with a banner on June 1, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
The Bayer sign is covered with a banner on June 1, 2016.

Lamar Advertising hasn't overhauled its rusted billboard on Mt. Washington because Pittsburgh officials refused to issue a permit required to start renovations, an attorney for the company said at a court hearing Wednesday.

District Judge Jim Motznik gave Lamar Advertising 60 days to paint and remove rust from the Grandview Avenue side of the sign or face penalties for allowing the billboard to deteriorate in violation of city code.

Downtown attorney Jonathan Kamin, who represents Lamar, told Motznik during a hearing on the violation that the company will remove the rust and paint the sign.

“My argument is how can I be cited for failing to do something when they're sitting on a permit for more than two years that would allow me to renovate the sign,” Kamin told reporters before the hearing.

He said Lamar wants to renovate the entire sign and equip it with LED lighting. The company gave the city a $72,000 check in 2014 to cover a permit fee, but Pittsburgh did not cash the check.

Tim McNulty, spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto, said the mayor opposed Lamar's plans to turn the sign “into a giant billboard advertising chipped ham and the like, which is not what it historically has been used for.”

He said Lamar agreed to work with the city on plans for restoring the sign, and negotiations accounted for the permitting delay. The company then broke off talks, he said.

Earlier this month, the city filed a second, unrelated set of citations that said Lamar failed to obtain a permit before it placed a large yellow sign on the billboard that displays the Sprint logo and says “Pittsburgh WINS with black & yellow.”

A hearing in that case has not been scheduled.

“Lamar never received or applied for a city permit for the Sprint ad, and by putting it up broke off good-faith talks the city was having with them over the sign's renovation,” McNulty said.

Kamin said Pittsburgh wrongly cited Lamar in June because the Sprint sign meets all provisions of city code and Lamar has been permitted to use the billboard for decades. He said the company has no intention of removing the sign.

Robert Lomax, an inspector with the city's Department of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections, testified during Wednesday's hearing that he cited Lamar in May for failing to maintain the billboard after receiving an anonymous complaint. He said rust plainly visible from Grandview Avenue violates a city ordinance regarding property maintenance. Lomax said he cited Lamar only for the rear of the billboard because he could not access the front for an inspection.

Adam Rosenthal, an assistant city solicitor, declined to comment.

The city and Lamar have feuded for years over electronic billboards owned or proposed by the company.

The Mt. Washington sign dates to 1934 and has advertised such iconic Pittsburgh companies as Iron City, Alcoa and Bayer.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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