ODOT revokes permit for controversial Lake Hefner Parkway billboard

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) -  A fight over the bright lights of a billboard planned for the Lake Hefner Parkway is over.

Late Wednesday afternoon, officials with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation announced that the agency was "revoking a recently approved billboard relocation permit along Lake Hefner Parkway."

The controversy surrounded plans to put an electronic billboard along the Lake Hefner Parkway, near Hefner Rd. in Oklahoma City.

The fight started after Lamar Advertising was asked to move a billboard during an I-235 widening project in 2015.

In the end, Lamar purchased land from a church near Hefner Rd. and the Lake Hefner Parkway with plans to install the billboard there.

In 2018, that plan was denied due to an existing playground near the planned site. Federal law prohibits billboards from being that close to playgrounds.

However, that playground was later torn down.

Around Oct. 26, the plan took another turn with the start of an investigation by the Oklahoma City Police Department.

"This is not your run-of-the-mill, everyday theft that we deal with," MSgt. Gary Knight, with the Oklahoma City Police Department, told News 4.

Records show a temporary playground that had been installed near the proposed billboard site was loaded up onto a trailer and stolen.

"This took time to pull up with a trailer and physically load all the playground equipment on to this trailer, then drive off with it. It's not often we see playground equipment stolen, that's actually pretty rare," said Knight.

The next business day after the theft, Lamar filed a second request to put up the billboard and it was approved.

Since it was a relocation of the old sign and not a new sign, the state was not required to get Oklahoma City approval.

On Tuesday, city leaders and Lamar attorneys clashed over a 180-day moratorium now in place on billboards along the Lake Hefner Parkway.

"There has been over a dozen relocation permits issued by the city. The city has never opposed a single one of them except for this one, the Lamar one, the one that you now want to pass a moratorium on," said Bill Hickman, attorney representing Lamar.

ODOT officials took another look at the site for the planned billboard. After receiving information regarding additional playground equipment in use on the property, they decided to revoke their initial approval for the plan.

"The Oklahoma Department of Transportation is revoking a recently approved billboard relocation permit along SH-74/Lake Hefner Parkway at 11400 Portland Ave. in Oklahoma City for Chancellor Media/Lamar Outdoor Advertising. This decision was made after an additional site inspection and interviewing property owners this week.

Since the Oct. 28 permit approval, the department received information regarding additional playground equipment in use on the property. Federal law does not allow highway billboard structures to be located within 500 feet of parks, playgrounds or cemeteries. Lamar’s sworn application indicated that the site met all federal and state criteria.

While the department will not issue a billboard permit for this location with a playground actively in use, the outdoor advertising company has the right to submit a relocation permit for a qualifying sign site as part of a 2015 eminent domain action. The company’s billboard previously was located on I-235 just south of N. 50th St., but was removed due to ODOT’s widening and reconstruction of the I-235 corridor.

The department’s role is to grant outdoor advertising permits along highway rights-of-way that comply with the federal highway beautification act. ODOT considers regulations at all levels when issuing new outdoor advertising permits, however, this application falls under a separate state statute that provides a permit process specific to billboard relocations," a statement from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation read.

News 4 tried repeatedly to reach out to Lamar, but our calls were not returned.

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