Lollipop Guild to Seek Permit for Billboard, Chehalis Says it’s a Longshot


Months after purchasing his Chehalis property, Lewis County Lollipop Guild founder Kyle Wheeler said he finally sees a path forward to erecting a billboard countering the decades-old controversial Uncle Sam billboard across the highway. But city officials say it may be a longshot. 

Instead of trying to rezone or negate existing regulations on the property, Wheeler will attempt to get approval for a variance — permission to deviate from existing code, usually granted to those who run into an unforeseeable condition, according to Planning and Building Manager Tammy Baraconi. While the variance process is fairly straightforward, city officials say it’s also usually an uphill battle. 

“Is it possible that it could get approved? It’s possible,” City Manager Jill Anderson said. “But it certainly is not something that has a high chance of success.”

That’s because the property is zoned as “residential,” meaning signs can only be four square feet — far from billboard size. It was also meant to manage stormwater, adding another layer of restrictions. On top of that, regulations put in place by a now-dissolved homeowner’s association still exist. The variance process stipulates that Baraconi write a staff report, analyzing existing code and ultimately making a recommendation on whether the applicant should be approved. Wheeler will make his own case, and the ultimate decision will be up to a hearing examiner — an attorney who the city contracts with. 

Baraconi noted that regardless of her own recommendation, variance applications often go either way. 

“It’s really truly up to the applicant to make an argument to the hearing examiner,” she said.

Wheeler has expressed frustration that it’s taken this long to find a clear path forward through the city. For months, there’s been infighting between the Lollipop Guild and the city, with nonstop emails and Wheeler accusing city officials of stonewalling his efforts, allegations that the city denies. 

Wheeler also recently accused Mayor Pro-tem Chad Taylor of inappropriate behavior. After city officials were told to limit their interactions with Wheeler, Taylor invited Wheeler to his private company, The Silver Agency, and sent him home with an apology letter and $150 worth of gift cards. 

Wheeler called the move “bribery,” and said it came after he made it clear he was angry about some of Taylor’s behavior.

Taylor, along with Anderson, maintain that he was acting as a private citizen, and that he did nothing wrong. 

“I wasn’t meeting as a city councilor,” Taylor said. “I know of so many elected officials that have donated to (the Lollipop Guild) … mine was to him and his husband so they could go have dinner together.”

According to Baraconi, Wheeler’s attempt to get a variance could take anywhere from three to four months. Before then, other legal options are available, like a painted fence or flag poles. 

Wheeler said while getting a billboard on the property is one of his priorities, he ultimately wants to see welcoming pride flags all around the county. 

“I would love to see them everywhere,” he said. “That’s what I wanted the whole time.”

Meanwhile, the Lollipop Guild is marching on with other campaigns, and has given out at least one large pride sign, reading “Lewis County Welcomes Everyone,” which is hanging as a sun-shade on McFiler’s outdoor patio in Chehalis. They continue to deliver “Rural Americans Against Racism” signs, and have recently started a new collaboration with a Chehalis resident called the “Chehalis Friendship Fence.”