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Signs of trouble ahead 

City Councilor Patrick Dowd has filed an appeal over the permit issued to put an LED billboard on the future Grant Street Transportation Center, Downtown.

The permit has been a bone of contention for some city councilors because it was granted without the normal public-review process.

Susan Tymoczko, city zoning administrator, issued the permit to Lamar Outdoor Advertising on the advice of Pat Ford, the director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority. In exchange, Lamar agreed to remove six traditional billboards from elsewhere, reducing the total amount of billboard space in town.

Ford set the precedent for such deals when he worked in the zoning department under Mayor Tom Murphy. He said he was able to do so because the city's code was silent on the issue of swapping boards.

Dowd's appeal comes as no surprise. Other councilors had threatened legal action previously, and CP blogged about Dowd's belief that the matter had to be resolved in court (See Slag Heap, "Dowd: LED sign bound for court"). The appeal was filed March 11.

"The question of the legality of the permit cannot be resolved by the legislative branch, and it cannot be resolved by the executive branch. It can only be resolved by the judicial branch," Dowd said during an interview with City Paper.

The appeal is set for a hearing April 10, but before that happens, city council will hold its own public hearing for March 20. And at least some members of the public who attend will likely speak in support of the billboard.

Tony Ceoffe, the executive director of Lawrenceville United, came to council on March 11 to basically ask members not to do anything to screw up the billboard-swapping arrangement. Ceoffe told members about nearly 55 billboards in Lawrenceville. He has been working with Lamar on a six-to-one swap of his own, and doesn't want that hindered by council taking action before the public has a chance to weigh in.

Councilor Bruce Kraus had proposed legislation asking the mayor to revoke the permit for the Grant Street sign, but that bill was pulled when it became apparent it would fall one vote short of passage.

"We're trying to follow the city's lead to remove urban blight by getting rid of six or eight billboards in exchange for just one lighted one," Ceoffe said. "We weren't even involved in the decision that could adversely affect us when no one has even come up with a better plan."

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