Photo: Nate Smallwood, Tribune-Review
“The state Supreme Court on Wednesday sided with Lamar Advertising, finding that a large vinyl banner the company put on its Mt. Washington billboard nearly five years ago does not violate a Pittsburgh zoning ordinance.
The banner in question was placed over a previous electronic billboard overlooking the city in May 2016. It advertised Sprint, the telecommunications company, in black lettering over a gold-yellow background. The space now advertises Iron City Beer in large red letters on white.
The court, in a 4-3 opinion written by Justice David Wecht, found that the vinyl sign does not violate the zoning code cited by the city.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto once called the banner an ‘eyesore…’
The original billboard at issue was erected in the mid-1920s on a parcel of land owned by Lamar on Grandview Avenue. It is a concrete structure measuring 7,200 square feet and until May 2016 included a 4,500-square-foot electronic advertising sign. It has been used for local brands like Bayer, Iron City Beer and Alcoa.
Then, without approval from the city, Lamar placed the vinyl Sprint sign over the existing electronic sign.
A month later, the city issued a violation notice to Lamar alleging the sign violated two sections of the zoning code: one that bars the enlargement or addition to an already non-conforming sign (as the electronic one had previously been categorized) without approval, and another that requires the removal of an advertising sign when a business has been terminated.
In November 2016, the Pittsburgh Zoning Hearing Board heard testimony that the vinyl sign did not change the existing structure of the sign but increased the total advertising space from 4,500 square feet to 7,200. The board ruled against Lamar, finding that the alterations to the sign would change its structure. Further, it found that the changes required conditional use and site-plan approval under a previous court case involving Lamar in Monroeville…
The company appealed to Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.
The judge there reversed the zoning board, finding that it had exceeded its jurisdiction by “venturing beyond the two provisions under which [the city] had cited Lamar. The court also agreed with Lamar that it did not need a permit to change the Mount Washington billboard …”
Commonwealth Court, in August 2019, affirmed that decision, finding that because Lamar did not increase the size of the sign, there was no violation. The city appealed to the state Supreme Court, which heard the argument in September.
In the 14-page opinion issued Wednesday, the court said that the previous case involving Lamar’s attempt to transition 17 existing static billboards in Monroeville to electronic ones is not applicable.
In that instance, the court ruled against Lamar, finding that the transition to electronic billboards in Monroeville required significant structural alterations to the existing structures, ‘whereas its placement of the vinyl sign over the sign structure of the Mount Washington billboard did not require any structural alterations…'”
— Paula Reed Ward, Tribune-Review