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City Owns Bugaboo Billboards, Lawyer Says

John G. "Chip" Dicks, an attorney for Lamar Advertising, says the city owns seven billboards "within the gateway" that greet visitors along the interstate in and around downtown. They're all located along the flood wall, within a quarter-mile of the Mayo Island billboard.

While those signs are half the size of the 97-foot-high Mayo Island billboard, Dicks maintains that the city-owned signs are aesthetically identical.

Dicks says the city has acquired seven billboards from Lamar over the years through a condemnation process that deemed the advertisements illegal because they didn't meet zoning requirements for setbacks and size. Lamar now rents the billboards back from the city, he says.

A call to the mayor's press office for comment was not returned by press time.

The city and such groups as Scenic Virginia have made longtime efforts to remove the towering Mayo Island billboard that, as Style reported June 7, advertises the state lottery jackpot figures.

In April, the city filed an injunction in Richmond Circuit Court in hopes of removing the sign, Dicks says, despite Lamar's ongoing appeal of zoning violations.

In a statement, Wilder says of the injunction: "It's a step in what we hope to be among continued measures toward identifying our gateways to the city."

The billboard has been illegal since it was constructed in 1977, but was essentially grandfathered and allowed to stay up, according to Leighton Powell, executive director of Scenic Virginia.

Powell and others have protested the billboard's placement for years. Previous owners of the sign appealed a ruling by the city's Board of Zoning Appeals that deemed the billboard illegal. The Richmond Circuit Court and the Virginia Supreme Court have upheld the zoning board's finding.

Still the sign stands. In part, Dicks says, it's because all the city's billboard records were "destroyed" in 1988, making it "difficult to prove vested rights." He calls the matter a "compensation" issue that could be resolved if the city offered a comparable billboard elsewhere. Dicks says the value of the billboard is $1.5 million.

Until then, Lamar will keep fighting the city to keep the sign where it is — in sight. If it's lowered, Dicks says, it'll be useless: "What are we going to do, advertise to kayakers?" S

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