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Another Legal Battle Over Electronic Billboards?

Did Pittsburgh Council's amending of a bill restricting electronic billboards in the city actually bring an end to a three-year moratorium on the electronic signs? That question could wind up in Common Pleas Court.

Lamar Advertising has applied to the city zoning department to convert 20 regular billboards into electronic ones. Lamar argues that council's decision to amend the original bill, that would have permitted some electronic signs, amounts to a legal loophole that negates the moratorium on electronic billboards. The dispute dates back to 2006, when Lamar put up an electronic billboard at the Grant Street Transportation Center in downtown Pittsburgh. The sign came down this year after a court ruled that Lamar did not go through the proper permitting process. That court case led to council's passage of the moratorium.

Mike Dawida is executive director of Scenic Pittsburgh, a nonprofit that tries to preserve the visual character of the city. He disputes Lamar's contention.

"The moratorium was a separate piece of legislation and is not stopped," Dawida said.

The city solicitor is developing a legal opinion on that question. Dawida said that his group will go to court to block Lamar's applications for 20 electronic signs.

"We believe we'll get an injunction against this behavior," Dawida said. "We also believe city council will reaffirm there always was a moratorium, this is a moratorium, and there will be a moratorium until this issue gets resolved completely."

At council's session today, President Darlene Harris introduced a new measure that continues the moratorium. However, Councilman Doug Shields proposed another bill. This one would impose a 10 percent tax on the gross receipts from all billboards in the city — traditional and electronic. There are about 1,000 billboards in the city.