A national nonprofit group that promotes scenic beauty is tightening ties with its local affiliate.
Scenic America, based in Washington, D.C., has 50 affiliates nationwide. But the group’s president, Mark Falzone, called Scenic Pittsburgh “the closest partner we have anywhere in the country” and a model for other affiliates.
Falzone was in town this week to formally make Scenic Pittsburgh its first local chapter.
“Scenic America and Scenic Pittsburgh are going to be working closer than ever together,” said Falzone. “We’re going to be sharing resources, and we’re going to be joined at the hip.”
Scenic America works to preserve and enhance the visual character of roadways, the countryside and communities. Much of its work involves fighting visual blight, a category into which the group lumps most billboards.
Scenic Pittsburgh, likewise, successfully fought in 2011 to remove an electronic billboard owned by Lamar Advertising from Downtown’s Grant Street Transportation Center. The group’s ongoing battles include joining City of Pittsburgh officials to push for the removal of Lamar Advertising’s large billboard on Mount Washington, overlooking the Point.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to remove a visual blight from our landscape than to get rid of that billboard,” said Falzone.
The city’s dispute with Lamar is currently in Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. (A separate if related court fight, over Lamar’s refusal to pay a city tax on billboards, also continues.)
Scenic Pittsburgh says it has offered to purchase the billboard, which sits on a small strip of land surrounded by city-owned Emerald View Park. Falzone said there are other ways to remove it.
“The easiest way is probably for the city to take it by eminent domain,” he says, referring to the practice of the government taking land for the public good, typically used for public-works projects like highways.
On the national level, Falzone said, Scenic America had lobbied for the recent passage of two bills in Congress. One re-opened nominations for National Scenic Byways, for roads of cultural, scenic, or natural importance. The other permanently authorized funds for the Land and Water Conservation Act, which distributes up to $900 million each year for state and local parks. Previously, the act required periodic reauthorization. Falzone said the funds could potentially include “millions” for parks in western Pennsylvania.