A longtime Danville auto dealer on Thursday appealed a Planning and Zoning order to remove signs at his car lots, but the Danville-Boyle County Board of Adjustments postponed a ruling until next month.
At issue are signs attached to light poles and some “feather” signs, so named because they resemble a tall, slender bird’s feather stuck in the ground, at Bob Allen Motor Mall on Maple Avenue and the Bob Allen location on the corner of the bypass and Perryville Road.
On Aug. 1 and again on Sept. 6, Danville-Boyle County Planning and Zoning compliance officer David Taylor sent letters to Bob Allen asking that the signs be removed from both locations within seven days.
The letter, which allows the recipient 30 days to appeal, says P&Z received complaints about the signs and they violate Article 13 of the zoning ordinance.
The Board of Adjustments decided Thursday to hold off on deciding whether Taylor acted correctly.
Attorney Merle Clark represented Allen on Thursday in what amounted to a quasi-legal hearing, with participants taking an oath before they spoke.
Allen was unable to attend, but John Welch, general manager of the Danville store, and longtime employee Jeremy Carson appeared to testify that similar signs had been in use for many years.
Clark told the board, which is an arm of P&Z, the signs should be grandfathered in under a non-conforming use provision in the current law because similar items always have been used by Bob Allen.
Clark also pointed to part of the law that makes signs exempt as a non-conforming use if they have been in continuous existence for 10 years, even if it was in violation of a zoning ordinance.
“The main point that we want to make to you is these have been in use for many years,” Clark said, adding that the signs had been neatly kept. “This was never meant to flout anyone, and it has a strict business use.”
Welch, who has worked for Bob Allen in some capacity for 18 years, said balloons and some kind of eye-catching signage always has been used throughout his work for the company. He said the signs typically last six months or more before having to be replaced.
“Part of our business is drawing attention,” Welch told the board.
P&Z attorney Bruce Smith refuted Clark’s assertions that temporary signs could be grandfathered in under new law and said signs of the kind used by Bob Allen have been in violation of city ordinances since at least 1988.
He pointed out the only significant allowance made in the ordinance passed earlier this year was for A-frame or sandwich board signs.
Smith said the enforcement issue is different than it would be for a permanent sign, citing a 1997 U.S. District Court case out of Louisville that indicated temporary signs aren’t eligible for non-conforming use status.
Clark said Smith was trying to get him “in the weeds” with the court case, which he said was irrelevant because the ordinance in Louisville was different from Danville’s in its application of non-conforming uses.
Smith also produced past notices of violation sent from P&Z to Bob Allen asking the store to change signage, none of which were apparently followed through on.
A letter sent to Bob Allen by former P&Z code enforcement officer Shawn Moore in 2005 said a banner at the Perryville Road location was classified as an illegal sign and had to be taken down or attached to the side of the business.
In June 2011, Taylor cited Bob Allen for balloons, a banner and the flags at both the Maple Avenue and Perryville Road locations.
A number of prominent business owners who were also cited for having similar signs apparently filed complaints with P&Z claiming Bob Allen and other automotive businesses were still in violation of the same ordinances between May 2011 and July 2012.
Taylor received complaints from former Danville Mayor John W.D. Bowling, who is an owner of the Arby's restaurant on Hustonville Road, about Bob Allen, as well as Danville Elite Auto and Aamco on Hustonville Road. The owners of Elite Auto and Aamco filed complaints about Bob Allen’s signs, as did Ace Hardware owner George Cunningham.
Other complaints presented Thursday dated back to the late 1990s, including one from a neighbor who said balloons were littering the yards of neighboring property owners.
Clark questioned whether the communication from Taylor and the other officials was considered an enforcement action.
He pointed to a provision in the P&Z ordinance that indicates cease and desist orders may be filed against people in violation of ordinances.
According to Smith, the letters from Taylor and his predecessors are considered a legal enforcement action, whether they were followed up with a cease and desist order or not. He noted that such orders set the ball rolling toward a lawsuit, which could prove too costly for P&Z if they were pursued in every case.
Smith said there had been compliance from some of the other businesses cited for violations, but Bob Allen’s decision not to take down the signs had adversely affected enforcement efforts that are already difficult at best.
“This, as far as sign ordinance enforcement is concerned, is just the tip of the iceberg,” Smith said.
P&Z and Clark will both produce their findings of fact on the case to the board before a meeting next month when the body is expected to rule on the appeal.