Scenic Pittsburgh Executive Director Michael Dawida Offers Two Ways Forward
Mt Washington: On Wednesday, January 20, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against the City of Pittsburgh in its long-running suit against the 4,500 square foot billboard on Mt Washington. The billboard, owned by the Lamar Advertising Company, had been cited by the City in 2016 for violating the zoning ordinance, but was ruled in compliance. In response to the ruling, Mayor Peduto’s spokesman Tim McNulty has said that the mayor is “ready to move on.”
While the City may be ready to drop their legal efforts, Scenic Pittsburgh executive director Michael Dawida says that would be a mistake. “I can propose two methods that I believe would be effective in removing the Mount Washington billboard,” he said, “which is a goal that many in this city have had for decades.”
As an organization founded to protect the scenic resources of southwestern Pennsylvania, Scenic Pittsburgh opposes billboards as threats to scenic beauty, and as damaging to nearby businesses and property values.
Solution #1. Dawida’s first proposal requires collecting the 10% levy on revenue generated by billboards within city limits, a measure which passed Pittsburgh City Council on November 27, 2012. Estimated to generate between $1.5-3 million a year in revenue for the city, the tax has never been collected and has been tied up in litigation between Lamar and the City. Scenic Pittsburgh proposed and help to pass the legislation.
“That’s more than eight years gone by now, and millions – maybe as much as $24 million – that the city has missed out on,” said Dawida. “The law is clear. Philadelphia has been collecting revenue from a similar law for years now. Lamar should be a good business partner for the people of Pittsburgh and settle this.”
Lamar dropping their litigation and coming to a settlement with the City, would result in ample revenue to buy up the Mount Washington billboard, explained Dawida – and would help with the City’s current budget woes.
Due to the COVID pandemic, Pittsburgh is running a $44 million deficit and may have to lay off up to 1/3 of the city’s police force, along with cutting many other services.
Solution #2. Another legal avenue to remove the billboard would involve the City using its power of eminent domain. “All the land around the billboard is now Emerald Park, owned by the city. It makes sense that this plot of land become part of it as well,” added Dawida.
Regardless of the method involved, Scenic Pittsburgh is ready to support the City’s efforts however they can.
“Billboards use our streets and communities to generate millions, while they pay very little in taxes and degrade our scenic environment,” said Dawida. “We know that beauty is good for business, and billboards compromise the economic vitality of our region.”
“We will continue this fight as long as is needed to keep Pittsburgh the iconic and scenic place that we love.”