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Lawsuit seeks electronic sign's removal

| Thursday, March 10, 2011, 12:00 p.m.

A group working to limit electronic billboards in Pittsburgh filed a lawsuit on Wednesday demanding the removal of such a sign.

The 19- by 58-foot curved electronic sign on the side of the Grant Transportation Center, Downtown, remains unfinished more than three years after city officials quickly stopped its construction.

"This partially completed sign hanging at a prominent Downtown intersection has remained an eyesore. ... It is time to finally resolve the issue once and for all," said Scenic Pittsburgh Executive Director Mike Dawida.

The lawsuit names Pittsburgh; the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, which owns the transportation center; Lamar Advertising, the billboard owner; and the city Bureau of Building Inspection's acting director, John Jennings, as defendants.

The city issued permits for the sign but later determined the permitting process was flawed. Officials placed a moratorium on electronic billboards until regulations are drafted and approved by council.

The situation led to the August 2008 resignation of Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Pat Ford, and Lamar exhausted legal appeals to finish the sign.

Yesterday, City Council President Darlene Harris said about the lawsuit, "Whatever it takes to get it down."

"Why have it there if you can't use it?" Harris said. "It's a mess the way it is. It would be more attractive if it was gone altogether."

In December, Councilman Patrick Dowd issued a letter demanding Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration take steps to ensure the sign's removal.

Parking Authority Executive David Onorato said the authority had a contract with Lamar that stipulates if the advertising company couldn't finish the sign, it had to restore the outside of the building to its original configuration, but litigation delayed that.

Scenic Pittsburgh said in its lawsuit that if a judge grants its request, it would allow the city to decide how to proceed, suggesting the Bureau of Building Inspection could issue citations or fines, or could remove the billboard and then bill Lamar.

Deputy City Solicitor Ronald Pferdehirt said the law department had not reviewed the complaint and would not comment.

A Lamar representative did not return a phone message or e-mail seeking comment.

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