The photo on the Neighbors in the Strip website does.
There's movement on two fronts in the pending court fight over the future of Lamar Advertising's electronic billboard downtown.
A quick aside, if you're new to the story:
As told here, A zoning board ruling was a big defeat for that huge, partially completed electronic billboard in downtown Pittsburgh; a ruling that appeared to kill the nearly seven-million dollar project.
Billboard Back Story: Brewing Controversies
Chessboards & Mushroom Clouds At City Hall
Now, the new developments:
The Ravenstahl administration recently informed City Council that instead of the city defending the Zoning Board's split vote ruling against the sign, it was hiring a private law firm to do the job instead.
Pittsburgh City Council approved that decision (including payment of legal fees up to $15,000) and announced its intention to hold a closed door executive session meeting with the private attorneys taking on the job. At last word, that meeting's yet to take place.
Meanwhile, Common Pleas Court Judge Joseph James on March 3rd issued an order for briefs to be filed 20 days from that date. Lamar filed its brief on March 23rd. The law firm hired by the city filed its appearance and brief one day later, on the 24th.
The judge had ordered briefs on two topics: "1. What is the standard of review when Zoning Board of Adjustment is split one-one and both members file separate opinions; 2. Should the record be expanded to include testimony of an employee of the City Planning Department".
The private attorneys hired by the city to defend the Zoning Board ruling are Blaine Lucas and Krista-Ann Staley of the firm Babst, Calland, Clements & Zomnir.
It the Lamar brief, attorney Sam Kamin argues that "this is not an appeal from the issuance or denial" of the sign permit", but instead ""the action requested of the zoning board was the revocation of Lamar's Sign Permit". The Lamar brief cites past court cases to argue that the zoning board's tie vote constitutes a refusal to revoke the sign permit, not a refusal to approve the electronic billboard. Lamar also argues that the split vote means the status quo should be maintained -- and it considers the status quo to be that the sign and its permit remain.
It also argues that Zoning Board Chair Watson's opinion (supporting Lamar) should be the controlling one for review by the court. That would mean Lamar doesn't have to provide more evidence to make its case. The advertising company argues that Zoning Board Member Mitinger's opinion and findings (against Lamar) "reject uncontradicted evidence regarding the City's 'past practice' of permitting 'swaps' of non-conforming advertising signs for LED signs". So, if Judge James accepts Mitinger's opinion, Lamar wants the chance to present evidence to him for a fresh review of the matter.
Private attorney Blaine Lucas wrote the brief on behalf of the city's ruling against Lamar's sign. (While it's dated March 23, the Court Records Department time stamp indicates it was filed March 24 at 9:19 AM. Lucas' brief notes that the record in this case consists of 802 pages of testimony and exhibits.
Like Lamar's Kamin, Lucas argues that a tie vote of a governmental body constitutes a negative decision and preserves the status quo. Where do they part company? They differ over what exactly the status quo is in this case. Implicitly, the city is arguing that the status quo is that there is no permit for the electronic billboard. It also argues that the Mitinger opinion (against Lamar) is the one that controls the court's review.
On behalf of the city, Lucas opposes Lamar's wish to reopen the record to include public statements by a senior planner with the city's Planning Department about earlier informal city agreements about replacing non-conforming signs. Lucas writes "the only thing that requiring the testimony of Mr. Sentz would open is the proverbial 'can of worms'. Mr. Sentz also stated at the public meeting in question that under principles of urban design, a large L.E.D> sign would not be appropriate at the end of a major government business street. A multitude of other witnesses offered their opinions on a variety of issues related to the signs in dispute here or on signage issues generally. Should the record also be reopened to allow all of this testimony?"