Slonaker Loses County Court Case Over Signage

General District Judge William G. Barkley has found Forest Lakes Arby’s owner Tom Slonaker in clear violation of the county’s zoning regulations, Tasha Kates wrote in yesterday’s Progress, fining him $1,000 per violation. For years Slonaker has festooned his business with advertisements for Arby’s and another, unlicensed business that exceed county standards that regulate how many square feet of ads that a business can have on their property. When pressed in court as to why he left signs up in violation of a law he was well familiar with, Slonaker claimed temporary blindness.

Back in 2003, Slonaker flew an Arby’s flag on his flagpole, and when the county pointed out that’s an ad too, Slonaker accused the county of opposing the American flag and thus being terrorist-supporters, or some such drummed-up patriotism of financial convenience. (At the time, he told the Progress: “Not only do I intend to continue to fly the Arby’s Flag with pride below our American Flag, but I will also fly the UVa Flag, our state flag and any other flag which shows our pride in America’s freedom’s which you seem so intent to abolish.”) His argument is that it’s his property, and he can do anything that he wants, without restriction, and there’s nothing that the county or anybody else should have to say about it.

One point that Slonaker has made repeatedly that have some merit is that other businesses display advertisements that would appear to exceed reasonable standards for the allowable square footage. I recently drove down 29 and took pictures of a couple of the more prominent examples. Better Living Furniture, near Rio Hill, appears to have a trailer parked permanently next to their store, covered with a large ad for one of the product lines that they carry. (Google Maps captured this, too, so constant is its presence.)

Better Living Furniture Trucks

And Ntelos’ store up towards Hollymead has an armored truck permanently parked out front that serves as a billboard for the business, something that Slonaker used to do with a sign-bearing van out front of his fast food restaurant.

Ntelos' Store on 29N

Signs are covered under section 4.15 of the zoning regulations (505k PDF), which certainly appears to prohibit both the Ntelos and Better Living signs. §4.15.7c2 prohibits

Advertising vehicles, where (i) the vehicle is parked so as to be visible from a public right-of-way in a parking space or parking area not authorized by section 4.15.6(21); (ii) the vehicle is inoperable; or (iii) the vehicle is incapable of moving on its own or is not self-propelled.

The exception specified in 4.15.6(21) is for vehicles that are “used as transportation for the business” and are parked properly. Given that neither of these things seem to move (and Ntelos has no use for an armored truck—it’s unlikely that they often deal in cash), I can’t see how they qualify.

It looks like Slonaker is right that the regulations are enforced unevenly, and he’s right to complain about it. But he’s dead wrong in believing that means that the law doesn’t apply to him.

26 Responses to “Slonaker Loses County Court Case Over Signage”


  • Better living has moved it’s trailer. But, just drive up and down 29 and you’ll see lots of violations in the exact manner Slonaker get fined.

  • Maybe we have too many rules?

  • I think Slonaker proves the opposite. I’m all in favor of eliminating those rules or laws that dictate that which is obvious or unnecessary. I’d oppose a law requiring unicyclists to wave a red flag while cycling down West Main Street during dusk and dawn as unnecessary. Likewise, I’d oppose a law requiring businesses to allow people to use their telephones to call the rescue squad to report an emergency, because I’m aware of no business owner so cold-hearted as to refuse such a request.

    This fellow has made clear that the signage laws are quite necessary. I don’t doubt that Arby’s would look something like Las Vegas without any signage regulations. Slonaker would festoon the place with spotlights shining into the air, tethered balloons bobbling over the highway announcing whatever ghastly food-like-substance that Arby’s sells, and blinking neon signs proclaiming the wonders of roast beef. And that would inspire an arms race, with neighboring businesses needing to compete to be seen, and they, too, would need blinking lights and spotlights. 29N would be left looking hideous, business owners would have to fork out a small fortune to have more baubles to attract the attention of motorists (whose attentions are best left on the task at hand, of course: driving), and nobody would win but the sign makers.

    Yeah, I think we have too many rules. But signage regulations are rules have have evolved in response to demands from business owners and residents, rather than having been dropped down as a monolith from on high. Quite often those are the kinds of rules that make sense, as can become obvious in their absence.

  • “29N would be left looking hideous….”

    I think you’re about 20 years too late on that prediction, Waldo.

  • You may not like the way 29N looks, but it is a necessary evil. Sure Slonaker is a little over the top but he is a businessman. He creates employment, generates taxes, etc., etc. and some of his taxes go towards paying the salaries of the very people who prosecuted him in the county government. Until you’ve walked in his shoes don’t be so critical. I’d rather have private business generating jobs and new taxes than have one more local county government employee eating out of the public trough.

  • I have walked in his shoes. I’ve started, owned, and operated three local businesses. I rented a pair of office spaces, worried about signage, paid payroll taxes, paid for employees’ parking, health insurance, etc. All businesses provide the benefits that you describe, and so these regulations need to be applied to everybody fairly.

  • You may not like the way 29N looks, but it is a necessary evil.

    No, it’s not. There are commercial zones all over the country, some of which look more attractive than 29N and some of which look worse. And it’s largely local zoning that determines how it works out. It’s very much within our control.

    And, what’s this “I’d rather have private business generating jobs and new taxes than have one more local county government employee eating out of the public trough”? Since when has there ever been such an “either/or” choice?

    I’ve walked in Slonaker’s shoes. I own a business, create employment, generate taxes, etc., etc. I’m critical.

  • It doesn’t have to look like 29 to serve peoples need to shop, have services. I was in Hilton Head S.C. this past June, and lemme tell ya there’s plenty shopping going on there! There are natural vegetation screens between the highway and the parking lots for the shops, and it feels very different. I assume there’s some ordinance mandating such tastefulness.

  • I found this guys radio ads against the county more offensive than any sign he may posted on a light pole. Trying to equate his plight to God and country was pathetic. I was happy to see this nut case get him come uppings. Just my opinion.

  • But Vegas looks spectacular.

    A vote against Waldo is a vote for Bellagio fountains!

  • I’m curious if the corporate Arby’s HQ is aware of what an asshat this guy is, and how his self-rightous foolishness is affecting their corporate name and reputation?

  • Andrew, I believe that Slonaker has quite a following, and his location is routinely rated very highly.

    Besides, I can’t imagine Corporate would really come down hard on an owner trying to promote the Arby’s name/brand/sales.

  • Questor, I have no doubt he has a following, nor that HQ approves of him promoting the brand. But I would think that corporate types would shy away from franchisees who clearly go out of their way to be so controversial. And who break the law.

    I like Arby’s more than most fast food, and I know I would NEVER eat at this moron’s restaurant. And I’m less likely to want to stop at an Arby’s when I’m traveling. Not that I’m the only person that the Arby’s chain is trying to please – I guess I’m just surprised that they’re not a little more aware of what a polarizing guy Mr. Slonaker is.

  • The Blue Ridge restaurant does this all the time with a truck along Rt 29. Violates Greene’s ordinances too.

    Then again, its the same place that sent over a dozen Greene teachers to UVa with food poisoning and then blamed another diner on the TV news that night. They don’t give a damn about rules for cooking or advertising.

  • Thanks Waldo for the photo of those “Better Living” trailers. While yes they did recently disappear (I think in conjunction with this post). They sat up for well over 10 months (October being the 10th month). And I drove past them month after month all year.

    And yep it’s fairly easy to drive around the 29 north area and find similarly painted vehicles acting as billboards.

    It was unequal enforcement. And in this instance I disagree with Waldo… if you won’t enforce it equally then no- it does not apply to me either.

  • It was unequal enforcement. And in this instance I disagree with Waldo… if you won’t enforce it equally then no- it does not apply to me either.

    I think you raise an important point: uneven enforcement of the laws creates a disrespect for the law. (The establishment of laws that go unenforced do the same thing, not incidentally.) If people do not perceive that laws are rooted in logic and that they’re enforced evenly, it understandably makes people contemptuous of it. If that guy can speed past traffic in the breakdown lane, so can I! Sensible, logical people—without engaging in any flattery, I mean the sort of people involved and interested enough in their community to read a site like cvillenews.com—ought to know better, although I appreciate that the emotional portion of the brain has a way of overriding the logical part of your brain. :)

  • I think there’s something personal going on in the background between Slonaker and Albemarle County, or perhaps some employee at Albemarle County. It won’t be the first time Albemarle County employees haves MISUSED their his authority in vindictive and retalitory agendas. Two fine examples come right out of my family alone. First, the county sued my father for tax evasion in 1978-1979. He would sell his car and truck every year during the last week in December. He would then buy a new car and truck during the first week of January. This was before prorated taxes of course. Yes, I guess we could say my father was technically evading taxes… LEGALLY!!!! He and his attorney kicked Albemarle’s butt in court. Attorney’s fees and damages were assessed against Albemarle County. The judge laughed at the county attorney for even bringing the case. And while I don’t recall the judge”s exact words, he basically told the county attorney to never bring anything like this into his courtroom again. And the second example of course was me, and a serious of false arrests by the Albemarle County cop shoppe. I also kicked their butts in both the three ring circus criminal trials and the lawsuits I later filed.

    Some of you miss the broader picture here too. This whole Arby’s thing is better than paid advertising. I didn’t even know there was an Arby’s out there. I simply had never noticed the signage which is allowed by the county, a 4 inch by 6 inch sign with letters no larger than 1/4″??? Or something just as absurd. (So, I exaggerated, sue me!!! LOL!) Slonaker now has me as a customer, something he didn’t have before said controversy.

    Furthermore, based on Arby’s being charged for something we all know other businesses have gotten by with for years…. and still get by with… I seriously doubt if Arby’s Corporate gives a damn about Slonaker addressing the issue in the manner in which he did so.

    Get over it, folks. Slonaker fought an injustice. He lost. But it’s just one black eye against Albemarle County in the eyes of most knowledgeable and intelligent people.

  • Please excuse my typing, spelling and grammar above. I was on the phone as I was submitting my reply. :)

  • RE: the “better than paid advertising” thing — that cuts both ways, of course. I actually like a Beef ‘N Cheddar now and then but there’s no way I would buy one from his store. And since we all know Charlottesville is the People’s Republic of Charlottesville, I can’t be the only one who declines to buy from him based on his high local profile as Persecuted Conservative Businessman. So maybe my boycott cancels out Demo’s patronage of the store.

  • “Not only do I intend to continue to fly the Arby’s Flag with pride below our American Flag, but I will also fly the UVa Flag, our state flag and any other flag which shows our pride in America’s freedom’s which you seem so intent to abolish.”

    That sentence is so hilarious it makes me want to patronize his store more, not less.

    THEY MAY TAKE OUR LIVES BUT THEY WILL NEVER TAKE OUR CURLY FRIES

  • imo, Arby’s curly fries are the work of the devil. NOT what a french fry should be all about.

  • There’s a whole lot of devil worshippers out there then. Curly Fries are pretty popular around these parts.
    I guess Slonaker wasn’t even allowed to have a Curly Fries sign in his windows though, eh?

  • If that guy can speed past traffic in the breakdown lane, so can I! Sensible, logical people—without engaging in any flattery, I mean the sort of people involved and interested enough in their community to read a site like cvillenews.com—ought to know better, although I appreciate that the emotional portion of the brain has a way of overriding the logical part of your brain. :)

    I agree with you: “uneven enforcement of the laws creates a disrespect for the law.”

    Laws for the purpose of public safety are one thing entirely. I can see and respect that the cops can’t be everywhere at once enforcing laws equally.

    But –

    Bureaucratic Laws that affect the my ability to make money- which are unequally enforced- well that’s affecting my ability to make money. And some of the examples you and I have sited- aren’t one off examples. They are offenses that have existed at a minimum for the duration of the length of Mr Sloanakers lawsuit.

    Those are laws that if you can’t enforce equally deserve to be ignored.

  • Those are laws that if you can’t enforce equally deserve to be ignored.

    Wouldn’t you agree that, if caught knowingly violating a law under such circumstances, that the only proper response is the same as with civil disobedience (which this surely is): to say “yes, indeed, I broke the law,” and take your lumps?

  • Wouldn’t you agree that, if caught knowingly violating a law under such circumstances, that the only proper response is the same as with civil disobedience (which this surely is): to say “yes, indeed, I broke the law,” and take your lumps?

    Yeah sure.

    And the other proper response- if money wasn’t an issue for me would be to be a hardass about it- and keep violating the unequally enforced laws- and keep bring suit against the county each and every time- they attempted to single me out for the inequitable enforcement.

    And perhaps I’d also hire an investigator to look at those companies that are getting a pass and see if I could find any connections between those companies and political donations, or political social connections (etc).

    I guess it’s a good thing I’m just a underpaid nobody.

  • And I think that’s the trouble with what Slonaker is doing here. Rather than sue over equal protection concerns—which would be a legitimate case, I think—he tried to win a case brought against him, on the merits of the law. But since he was in clear violation of that law, he’s got no defense. The county won handily, as they should have.

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