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Tempe businessman's signs illegal, city says

by Dianna M. Nez - Feb. 17, 2011 12:00 AM

The Arizona Republic

Tempe businessman Brian Epstein says he just wants to be patriotic by decorating his car wash with red, white and blue stars and stripes for Presidents Day.

The city says his star-spangled signs are illegal, no matter how much they may remind people of American flags.

So code-enforcement officers have demanded that Epstein remove his large feather-shaped signs that ripple in the wind at the Hog Wash Express car wash at Priest and University drives. Epstein says he plans to leave them up.

"Customers say they like them because they look like the American flag," he said.

At issue is the city's code regulating holiday decorations. Tempe allows businesses to fly one American flag year-round. But the city places tougher restrictions on banners and other decorations.

Tempe spokeswoman Kris Baxter-Ging said Epstein's decorations are considered windsail banners, not flags.

"These are illegal in Tempe according to our code," she wrote The Arizona Republic in an e-mail.

Citing ongoing litigation with Epstein, Tempe declined to allow anyone from its zoning or code-compliance department to answer questions about the city code.

Epstein supplied e-mails from Tempe to his attorney stating that Tempe allows commercial decorations only during five holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Independence Day and Veterans Day.

The city code, 4-903L, says decorations "may be displayed on a temporary basis for traditionally accepted civic, patriotic or religious holidays" but does not identify the specific holidays. Signs that are a traffic hazard are banned. Decorations can be displayed no sooner than 30 days before the holiday and must be removed no later than 15 days after.

City officials declined to say whether commercial decorating is limited to the five holidays, citing ongoing litigation with Epstein. City spokeswoman Nikki Ripley said business owners who want to know the rules can read the code and then call the city if they have questions.

Valley zoning rules vary by city. Phoenix and Mesa officials said Epstein would be able to display the signs if Hog Wash were in their city.

Phoenix zoning administrator Alex Singbush said the city exempts holiday decorations from its sign ordinance, allowing businesses to display decorations that promote a holiday as long as it's not a traffic hazard. Mesa zoning administrator Gordon Sheffield said the city allows decorations without a sign permit as long as they do not include promotional messages, are not a traffic hazard and represent the holiday. Mesa decorations may not be put up earlier than 30 days before the holiday and must be removed no later than 10 days after.

Neither city designates specific holidays when decorations are allowed but both said businesses may decorate for Presidents Day.

Epstein had been in a dispute with Tempe over signs at his business when he put up the banners earlier this month. He said he agreed to remove a "thank you" sign posted at the exit of the car wash because the city said it was too big.

But he said he drew the line when he was asked to remove his Presidents Day decorations.

"It's idiotic and ridiculous," he said. "I don't know how anyone with common sense could argue that patriotic decorations aren't (appropriate) for Presidents Day."


America the Messy Yard Police State