In violation of the city’s own ordinance, a Charlottesville homeowner has been threatened by local government for displaying a political sign in his yard.
On September 23, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, of Rose Hill Drive, were issued a Notice of Violation / Order of Correction by Zoning Administrator, Read Brodhead. The transgression? Erecting a sign in their yard, which reads: “Worship your faith, not your politics.”
Brodhead cites, in his notice, Zoning Ordinance Section 34-1047(1): “signs within residential zones shall not be greater than one (1) square foot.” The letter continues by threatening the Smiths with “legal proceedings” and “civil penalties” of up to $5,000 if they do not take “corrective action” (i.e. remove the sign).
Unreferenced by the Zoning Administrator is Section 34-1027(11), which allows “political signs” to be displayed in all districts without obtaining a permit.
Currently and recently, scores of Charlottesville neighborhood homes have donned signs bearing political and quasi-political messages including:
- End this War
- Save McIntire Park
- Support our Troops
- Wage Peace
- Attack Iraq, NO!
- Build the Parkway
Each of these exceeded code limitations for size, and most were up for months—if not years—without citation from government zoning administrators.
In past weeks, City employees have made multiple surveillance visits to the Smith residence in order to monitor the state of this infraction. But during this course, Brodhead, et al somehow managed to overlook a badly decomposed, city-owned curb and storm drain on the same Rose Hill property (photos below). These important infrastructure deficiencies previously have been brought to the city’s attention, but to date, there has been no remedial action taken or maintenance scheduled.
Read Brodhead and his City Hall co-conspirators unnecessarily have created a conundrum in deciding that this particular sign doesn’t qualify for Charlottesville’s vague “political sign” exemption. While the sign police may end up reversing course in this instance, someday soon, the city may be facing “legal proceedings” of its own.
I don’t see a sign, political or otherwise. I see art.
In Section 34-1027, 15 of the 19 enumerated non-permit sign catagories include some type of restriction by size, quantity, location of posting on the property, etcetera.
There is not a single restriction of these or other types cited for what is succinctly stated in the code as Political Signs. It does not narrow the definition of political signs to candidate signs (which are the most prevalent political signs we see on residential property). It seems to me that the reference to faith in their message does not alter the nature of what is clearly a political statement.
The taxpayer money spent on staff time to monitor, document, then process a Notice of Violation juxtaposes badly with the deteriorated curb and drain. How many times do we see government fail to perform its most basic core functions in favor of overreaching its bounds?
The “Sign Police” is one thing (sadly, our private property rights are assaulted every day), but the “Thought Police” is quite another. It is reasonable to investigate if there is a pattern of uneven enforcement commensurate to statement content and determine if there is a double-standard.
I wish Mr. and Mrs. Smith the best outcome possible.
It is reasonable to investigate if there is a pattern of uneven enforcement commensurate to statement content and determine if there is a double-standard.
I agree, particularly in light of the signs Rob has listed, and even apart from that I wish the city had left the Smiths alone. Still, on strictly legal grounds, I think the city has a case. If “the reference to faith in their message doesn’t alter the nature of what is clearly a political statement,” then what is the political statement? Is it liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican or Tea Party-ish? Which issue does it take a stand on? It’s not a political statement at all. It’s a religious one.
Why would anyone put up a 1 sq. ft. sing? Would the Councilors be willing to limit their campaign signs to that size? After all, they only need to put their names on them.
Ok – I’m confused. Why are the people at the intersection of Park Street & North Avenue allowed to have the big tombstone saying something about the death of McIntire Parkway? That should definitely be a violation of city code if they want to go pick on someone.
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