The Austin Chronicle

Unpermitted MLK Billboard Removed by Owner

Permitting violation, not vandals, led to the takedown of Eastside's MLK Jr. billboard

By Chase Hoffberger, February 6, 2015, News

Rumors last Thursday that vandals had taken a blow-torch to an East Austin billboard displaying two images of (and quotes from) Martin Luther King Jr. were ended Friday afternoon when the Chronicle learned that the billboard – cut down by its owners – was actually removed at the behest of the city.

Calls made to Dinosaur Outdoor Bill­boards that afternoon confirmed that code compliance was the issue. But company manager David Watson refused to acknowledge which city ordinance Dino­saur Outdoor had in fact violated, saying only that city workers "found one paragraph" in the billboard's contract agreement that wasn't in accord with city regulations. (Also on Friday, Watson had identified himself to the Chron­icle only as "Joe.")

On Tuesday, COA Code Compliance spokesperson Alana Reed explained that the billboard (which stood on an unoccupied plot of land along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard that's currently owned by a private trust called MLK 969 Revocable Living Trust) violated city code in that it wasn't actually permitted through the city. In 2008, City Coun­cil passed an ordinance requiring sign owners, rather than property owners, to register their billboards. Dinosaur once held a permit (originally issued on March 8, 2008) but it expired Dec. 31, 2010.

Reed couldn't say why it had taken more than four years for the city to notice the billboard's non-permitted existence after its expiration date, or why Dinosaur was able to obtain a billboard permit 23 years after the city passed an ordinance preventing new billboards within corporate limits, or when exactly the billboard was erected.

Reed said a municipal judge summoned Watson to a jury trial set for Tuesday, Feb. 3, but that the case was ultimately dismissed, as Watson had already ordered the billboard to be cut down at its base.

Watson refused comment to the Chronicle Tuesday, and specifically declined an invitation to respond to the city's belief that he took the billboard down on Jan. 19 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day – "to make a statement."

"I really don't have anything to say about what they said," said Watson.

For now, the structure (which still bears one of Dr. King's two quotes and portraits) remains on the ground, in the plot of land just east of Springdale Road. Watson said last Friday that he tried to get a crane out to the site that morning for removal but the ground was too wet for the crane to anchor itself. Tuesday's steady showers will likely further delay that process.

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