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Talks Stall Over Billboard

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Sometimes it pays not to advertise — just ask the folks at Lamar Outdoor Advertising, who've learned that lesson well from several years of stalled negotiations with the city.

While the company has been negotiating for the survival of its lucrative but possibly illegal billboard on Mayo's Island, it has maintained a relatively low profile around City Hall.

So low that the Mayor Dwight C. Jones administration was unaware that Lamar had been in high-level talks with Wilder and his staff about removing the sign.

“Whatever negotiations were going on prior to this administration, I'm unable to identify anyone who presently works with the city who is aware of the information related to those negotiations,” Jones' spokeswoman Tammy Hawley says. “It appears to be something Mayor Wilder worked with very closely and I can't uncover anyone [else] who had a hand in this.”

John C. “Chip” Dicks, a lawyer and former state legislator who represents Lamar, confirms that he's had no direct conversations with officials in the new administration.

In addition to the Mayo's Island billboard, which was built out of compliance with city zoning regulations in 1977 and has been ruled illegal a number of times, the company also plans to continue negotiations related to eight other billboards that for various legal reasons remain items of dispute with the city.

Any debate over the Mayo's Island sign is moot to Leighton Powell, executive director of Scenic Virginia. He says Lamar's use of it as a bargaining chip in its negotiations over the other signs is a sign of bad faith.

“Here's an update: The billboard — it's still up, and it's still illegal,” says Powell, who has a not-so-subtle suggestion: “The city should consider going after all of the illegal profits of that [Mayo's Island] billboard dating back to 1977.”

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