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Infamous Billboard to Come Down Soon?


The 97-foot-high sign has been illegal since it was erected in 1977 but was essentially grandfathered and permitted to stay up, says Leighton Powell, executive director for the nonprofit Scenic Virginia. Her group has long held that the billboard, which greets traffic coming into the city from Interstate 95, should come down.

It appears that may happen. The city of Richmond has filed an injunction against Lamar Advertising, which owns the billboard and rents the space to the Virginia Lottery to showcase its Mega Millions jackpot.

"It's a step in what we hope to be among continued measures toward identifying our gateways to the city," says Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, adding that removing the signage is one of many elements of the City of the Future plan. "Sometimes it's necessary to correct the past before heading toward the future."

Oversized and too close to the road, the sign managed to elude officials for 22 years until a citizen complaint prompted the Richmond planning department to check out the matter. City planners found the sign illegal but discovered they had little recourse do anything about it.

Meanwhile, the owner appealed the finding to the city's Board of Zoning Appeals, which agreed that the sign was illegal. The billboard's owner then appealed the case in Richmond Circuit Court and the Virginia Supreme Court — both of which upheld the board's decision.

When Lamar Advertising purchased the billboard several years ago, it applied for a special-use permit. City Council rejected it. Yet the billboard has remained. Officials at Lamar didn't return repeated calls from Style requesting comment. The Virginia Lottery also didn't return a call by press time.

Powell says naturalist groups such as Scenic Virginia hope the effort to remove the billboard is finally successful, reflective of a city that cares about its waterfront.

But it shouldn't have taken so long, she says: "You just can't legitimize an illegal billboard." S

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