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.

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