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Thread: So, what is it: a sign or a flag?

  1. #1
    Member CTPlanner's avatar
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    So, what is it: a sign or a flag?

    The developer of a recently constructed self-storage facility here in town has installed two internally illuminated “light boxes” (my term) in the shape of the American flag on the street-facing wall of his building (see photos). This raised the ire of the local zoning commission, which felt that these structures are signs as defined by the city’s zoning regulations and thus subject to its signage provisions rather than governmental flags (albeit not constructed of fabric), which are exempt from the signage regulations. Before taking any enforcement action against the developer, the commission decided to seek a legal opinion from the city attorneys’ office regarding this matter.

    In its response, the city attorneys’ office first noted that, under Connecticut state law, local zoning commissions are authorized to regulate only advertising signs and billboards; the opinion goes on to state that “[t]he American flags affixed to the building…contain no information or message relating specifically to that business or that would direct one’s attention to the business as a self-storage facility.” Finally, the opinion concludes that “[t]he American flags are not signs within the statutory definition and, therefore, cannot be regulated by the Zoning Commission.”

    It would be something of an understatement to note that the commission was none too pleased with the city attorneys’ response, but they decided to let the matter drop, at least for the moment.

    So, what’s your take on this issue? Any suggestions as how best to prevent this from happening again elsewhere in town? Or is this yet another foray into the arena of the irresolvable zoning conundrum?
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Americanflag001cropped.jpg   Americanflag002cropped.jpg  


  2. #2
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by CTPlanner
    The developer of a recently constructed self-storage facility here in town has installed two internally illuminated “light boxes” (my term) in the shape of the American flag on the street-facing wall of his building (see photos). This raised the ire of the local zoning commission, which felt that these structures are signs as defined by the city’s zoning regulations and thus subject to its signage provisions rather than governmental flags (albeit not constructed of fabric), which are exempt from the signage regulations. Before taking any enforcement action against the developer, the commission decided to seek a legal opinion from the city attorneys’ office regarding this matter.

    In its response, the city attorneys’ office first noted that, under Connecticut state law, local zoning commissions are authorized to regulate only advertising signs and billboards; the opinion goes on to state that “[t]he American flags affixed to the building…contain no information or message relating specifically to that business or that would direct one’s attention to the business as a self-storage facility.” Finally, the opinion concludes that “[t]he American flags are not signs within the statutory definition and, therefore, cannot be regulated by the Zoning Commission.”

    It would be something of an understatement to note that the commission was none too pleased with the city attorneys’ response, but they decided to let the matter drop, at least for the moment.

    So, what’s your take on this issue? Any suggestions as how best to prevent this from happening again elsewhere in town? Or is this yet another foray into the arena of the irresolvable zoning conundrum?
    Is this place's business name "American Storage" or "Old Glory Self Store" or some other name that would cause the flag sign to be used as identification or a logo?

    If not, then I wouldn't touch it with a 10 ft pole.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  3. #3
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Ah yes, ghetto flag sign instead of an actual flag. This is one of those things where you know it's sole purpose is to provide that much more signage on a building.

    Yes, it is a sign in my opinion, though you probably can't prove it. No. Do not push the issue because the likelyhood of a judge disagreeing with you is pretty high. I would carefully evaluate the PR implications of trying to regulate this and decide whether it is worth it. You know their first statement out of the box will be "the city is trying to restrict my patriotism."

    We restrict flag sizes here based on what the largest on premise sign allowable is. I'm not sure about the legality, but we haven't had an issue come up yet. I know it was written in an effort to curb the use of giant flags at gas stations for attention getters. I'll be glad to send you what we have, but I really doubt its legality. I guess I should pull out my code book and check it out.
    Last edited by Suburb Repairman; 19 Apr 2005 at 11:34 AM.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  4. #4
    Cyburbian MD Planner's avatar
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    I concur with your attorney and Boiker, it's simply not a sign. Even if your code somehow did identify it as a sign, the PR from trying to get it removed would be a nightmare.
    He's a planner, he's a dreamer, he's a sordid little schemer,
    Seems to think that money grows on trees . . .

  5. #5
    Cyburbian brian_w's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by MD Planner
    I concur with your attorney and Boiker, it's simply not a sign. Even if your code somehow did identify it as a sign, the PR from trying to get it removed would be a nightmare.
    I would also concur with the attorney's and Boiker's opinions. It the flag had "Sam's Storage" across it for instance, then its a sign, you have a case. In this case it is just a flag. I would steer very clear of this one.
    You only need two tools: WD-40 and Duct Tape. If it doesn't move and should, use the WD-40. If it shouldn't move and does, use the duct tape.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    The determination of whether it is a sign will have to be based upon your own definitions and relevent state law. In most cases, flags may be considered signs and may be regulated. Even when this is not the case, you would still have the ability to regulate aspects such as lighting.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    The determination of whether it is a sign will have to be based upon your own definitions and relevent state law. In most cases, flags may be considered signs and may be regulated. Even when this is not the case, you would still have the ability to regulate aspects such as lighting.
    Ditto. Our ordinance simply does not address American flags, it only addresses corporate flags used for commercial purposes. I am not sure about MO state law but we probably would not be able to regulate something like this.

  8. #8
    BWharrie's avatar
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    Accept the umpire's decision. It isn't hurting anybody.
    Better things to do. If you've got some spare time maybe you could help with my load of development applications currently falling off my desk.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    IMO its a sign, and by the ordinances I use, I would consider this a sign. If its not a sign, as the attorney has ruled, then at what point does this illuminated symbol become a sign? Under the ruling someone could construct a flag out of similiar materials and much larger, place it on a base by the street and have a great "Sign" or symbol for the sole purpose of advertising? Then place a "Sign" out of similar materials on the building itself or maybe on another base???

    I'm not sure its a major issue though, probably not worth stirring the pot over. I get a lot of similar complaints from the P&Z here... Is a little lighthouse that stands about 5' high and 3' around at the base a "Sign"? A lot of stuff like that...

  10. #10
    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    In most of the sign ordinances I've seen, I would classify that as a sign or other type of 'attention getting device'. But like others have said, it depends upon your own municipality's/state's definition of signage.

  11. #11
    You might want to let them know that they are displaying the national colors incorrectly. The union must always be in the upper left (the flag's right) side.

    The union, by the way, is the blue field upon which the stars are located.

    Okay, I'm a flag geek.

    We've been in a tussle with a few used car dealers over using plastic flags as an "attention getting device" which we strictly and uniformly forbid. The patriots amongst us are ever-riled over this. So far, the veterans groups have taken our side.
    Je suis Charlie

  12. #12
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker
    You might want to let them know that they are displaying the national colors incorrectly. The union must always be in the upper left (the flag's right) side.
    It always perplexed me to see a flag decal "backwards" on the side of a truck, plane, space shuttle or other vehicle. then I realized it is supposed to be displayed that was to simulate the way the flag would behave if it was a real flag and the vehicle was moving. I think the is the only time the union can be on the right side.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by boiker
    It always perplexed me to see a flag decal "backwards" on the side of a truck, plane, space shuttle or other vehicle. then I realized it is supposed to be displayed that was to simulate the way the flag would behave if it was a real flag and the vehicle was moving. I think the is the only time the union can be on the right side.
    Actually the only way a flag is supposed to be displayed on a civilian vehicle is draped over the hood. All those purported patriots with antenna-mounted flags and flag stickers are actually disrespecting flag protocol.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian MayorMatty's avatar
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    OK. Let's say we're all in agreement that these internally lit box flags suck. Here's a suggestion to get something done about them for those of you who may have to deal with something like this again. Call your local Veteran's administration office or service agency and then ask if they consider it appropriate to display flags like that. The business may be shamed into removing them. This worked a few years back when we had somebody looking to put a billboard near our Civil War monument. We contacted our local Vets who made a few calls and the application was pulled.

    Sneaky yes. Effective, you bet.

  15. #15

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    On a slightly off-topic note (the displaying colors inappropriately issue), one of the fly-by-nighters was holding a "tool sale." of course, that means large, PINK wooden A-Frames placed in the sidewalks all over town. One of the signs had a chep little plastic flag attached. What the heck do I do with the cheap little plastic flag?

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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    On a slightly off-topic note (the displaying colors inappropriately issue), one of the fly-by-nighters was holding a "tool sale." of course, that means large, PINK wooden A-Frames placed in the sidewalks all over town. One of the signs had a chep little plastic flag attached. What the heck do I do with the cheap little plastic flag?
    Put them all over the lawn of the violating business

  17. #17
    Cyburbian chukky's avatar
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    if you want to push the issue you could probably say it isnt actually a flag, but a representation of the flag... because it is "fluttering" in the non existant breeze... so its more or less the same as giant photo of the flag... not actually a flag

  18. #18
    Cyburbian chukky's avatar
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    did that make sense? im not sure?

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    How about balloons and those long streamers of flags...?

    How about balloons and those long streamers of flags...? Are these "signs"? They sure are part of an advertising strategy.

    You know...the ones strung all across the front of the business lot, frequently seen at car lots. There's also the air blowing up through the dancing fabric "noodles", the blazing gazillion candle flood lights (powered by a generator), and, oh yeah I almost forgot, the half acre American flag. So, are the little colored flags, streamers, balloons, and giant air filled mascots considered part of signage? Since it's all intended to bring in customers by grabbing their attention i suggest it is. Its advertising folks, plain and simple. But does a city bite the hand that feeds it? Revenue from [car] sales tax and goes into the city till. So how about equal protection under the law? If another business owner, say a small coffee shop, want to put up the dancing noodles, colored flags, streamers, a mega-mascot, whirling lights, and the other glitz that the auto malls use....well the precedent argument certainly commands attention. Enforce as a sign code violation and the business [car sales] people tell us we're driving them out of business or out of town, reminding the elected officials that they are thereby cheating their constiuents out of desperately needed cash flow.

    A related issue is light show billboards:
    Some auto malls (like one in Petaluma, CA and jurisdictions such as Rohnert Park even go so far as to erect bilboard sized movie screens consisting of thousands of small blinking lights to create an illuminated sign resembling a large (ginormous) flat screen TV . The one foisted upon one of our local communities (Rohnert Park) seemd to slow average freeway traffic speeds by up to 25 miles per hour for the first month it was installed, then has settled out to being a mere 10 mile per hour drop in traffic speeds along highway 101. I guess its an effective state highway city revenue producing virtual speed bump!

    Hmmmm

  20. #20

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    We are really, really anal about the giant "mascot balloons" It's an instant ticket in many cases.

    I find the giant gorillas...rather funny.

    We IGNORE totally those tacky strings of streamers. I think we need to change our code enforcement priorities.

    I still remember Clinto Pike in Knoxville, TN. At least FIVE MILES of tacky streamers for dozens of used car lots and similar "town next door" businesses.

  21. #21
         
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    Quote Originally posted by earthwise
    How about balloons and those long streamers of flags...? Are these "signs"? They sure are part of an advertising strategy.

    You know...the ones strung all across the front of the business lot, frequently seen at car lots. There's also the air blowing up through the dancing fabric "noodles", the blazing gazillion candle flood lights (powered by a generator), and, oh yeah I almost forgot, the half acre American flag. So, are the little colored flags, streamers, balloons, and giant air filled mascots considered part of signage? Since it's all intended to bring in customers by grabbing their attention i suggest it is. Its advertising folks, plain and simple. But does a city bite the hand that feeds it? Revenue from [car] sales tax and goes into the city till. So how about equal protection under the law? If another business owner, say a small coffee shop, want to put up the dancing noodles, colored flags, streamers, a mega-mascot, whirling lights, and the other glitz that the auto malls use....well the precedent argument certainly commands attention. Enforce as a sign code violation and the business [car sales] people tell us we're driving them out of business or out of town, reminding the elected officials that they are thereby cheating their constiuents out of desperately needed cash flow.

    A related issue is light show billboards:
    Some auto malls (like one in Petaluma, CA and jurisdictions such as Rohnert Park even go so far as to erect bilboard sized movie screens consisting of thousands of small blinking lights to create an illuminated sign resembling a large (ginormous) flat screen TV . The one foisted upon one of our local communities (Rohnert Park) seemd to slow average freeway traffic speeds by up to 25 miles per hour for the first month it was installed, then has settled out to being a mere 10 mile per hour drop in traffic speeds along highway 101. I guess its an effective state highway city revenue producing virtual speed bump!

    Hmmmm
    Our code prohibits:
    "All banners, pennants, streamers, balloons, flags, search lights, strobe lights, beacons, inflatable signs, except as otherwise provided; "
    Business owners get SO mad when they call and want a permit for a balloon..all I can say is " Not allowed"

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    How about....

    ...sticking to patriotism and THEREFORE prohibiting unsuitable depictions of the flag. I.e. if it's larger than a couple of feet on the side it should be a proper flag on a proper pennat, with lighting if not lowered at dusk? Hmmm?

    I think US flags look very nice, if displayed properly, as opposed to redneck style.
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