May It Please The Court

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Quote of the Day - I see my face in the mirror and say, "I'm a Halloween costume? That's what they think of me?" - Drew Carey
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The Halloween Queen Fights City Hall Over Sign Law

Just in time for Halloween, Raleigh, North Carolina has determined that kids dressed in costumes outside a costume store constitute a sign for the store.   That's right, take a look at Part 10 (comes right after Part 14 in the Code), Chapter 2, Article E, section 10-2083.2.  See if you can figure out how a kid dressed in a Halloween costume fits into this Ordinance.  Here are the categories that qualify as signs: 

-  Announcement signs.   
Awning, marquee, and canopy signs.   
Changeable copy signs.   
-  Community watch signs.   
-  Directional signs.
Directory signs.   
Ground low profile signs.   
Ground signs for double frontage lots.   
Ground medium profile signs.   
Ground high profile signs.   
-   Landmark signs.   
Product and information signs.   
Projecting signs.   
Temporary signs.   
-   Tract identification signs.   
Wall signs.   
Windblown signs. 
I can't, and I'm a lawyer.  I don't see the words "kids dressed in costumes" or anything even approaching that.  Perhaps it's because I'm not licensed in North Carolina, and I just don't understand how they do things in Raleigh, just up the road from Mayberry.  I used to live South of the Mason-Dixon line, but I still don't quite get it.  

For that matter, neither does the mother of the kids, Louie Bowen, who also owns the offending costume shop, Hughie & Louie's.   Her kids, 13 and 9, were dressed as Mrs. Claus and an elf.  They earned a $100 ticket from Raleigh's zoning department for failure to have a permit.  The editorial staff of the local paper, the News & Observer, is behind Mrs. Bowen, and has called on the mayor to intervene. 

Meanwhile, the zoning department has threatened a $500 fine for a repeat violation.  Of the sections on the list above, the Product Signs category looked like a possible fit, but the definition requires a sign of at least 32 feet.  At 13 and 9, it's doubtful that the kids are that big.  I wonder how Raleigh would treat headvertising, where you get paid to put an ad on your forehead.

N&O writer Josh Shaffer quoted Larry Strickland, Raleigh's inspections director, interpreting the sign Ordinance.  "It could even be a person.  If she's in the costume business and she's got people in costume out there, that could be a violation,''  the inspector claimed.  The reporter goes on, "Bowen's violation note reads:  'The display of portable sign(s)/banner(s)/pennant(s)/ balloon(s) at the above location is a violation of Raleigh City Code Section 10-2083.2, which allows for the display of such signs only after the issuance of a thirty (30) day special event sign permit."  An inspector scribbled an addendum:  "This includes people dress up.' "

In protest, Ms. Bowen donned her own costume:  a crushed velvet cape and faux-gold tiara and scepter.   As the Halloween Queen, she's going to fight City Hall.

It seems to me that if you have a scepter, you can overrule City Hall.

Posted by J. Craig Williams on Saturday, October 28, 2006 at 20:00 Comments (0)


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