Washington seeking injunction

Published 8:40 am Saturday, March 29, 2003

By By MIKE VOSS Contributing Editor
The city of Washington on Tuesday filed a civil action against a downtown coffee and gift shop and its owners for violating the city's sign laws.
The city's complaint against Hazel's Coffee and Gift Shoppe and owners John and Hazel Kendall seeks a mandatory injunction and collection of a civil penalty. The Kendalls were served the civil summons Wednesday. They have 30 days to file an answer to it. No trial date has been set.
The complaint was filed in the civil division of Beaufort County District Court. It centers around what the city terms illegal signs at the corner of Main and Market streets, the intersection of Bridge and Fifth streets and in front of the coffee shop.
Kendall believes a sign at Main and Market is crucial for his and his wife's business to survive.
On Thursday, Kendall acknowledged violating the city's sign laws.
On Friday, Kendall changed his mind, saying he is not violating the city's sign laws, because the city broke an agreement to erect a sign directing people to the coffee shop. He contends the agreement, in effect, exempts him from the sign laws.
After continued violations, Roberson said, the city decided it had to enforce its sign ordinance.
The city is asking the court to "enter a judgment in favor of plaintiff against defendants and each of them in the amount of $600 as of Nov. 25, 2002 and an additional penalty of $50 per day from and after Nov. 25, 2002 through Dec. 5, 2002 as well as an additional penalty of $50 per day from and after Feb. 15, 2003 and until such time as the acts complained of are abated."
That would put the penalty at $9,750, or $3,250 for each defendant (John Kendall, Hazel Kendall and the coffee shop), as of today.
The city also wants the court to order the Kendalls not to erect a sign that violates city sign laws and to remove any signs that violate those laws.
The city's complaint states the city notified the Kendalls on several occasions, beginning Dec. 18, 2001, that they were in violation of the city's sign laws. According to the complaint, John Rodman, planning administrator, issued a civil penalty citation to the Kendalls after warning them several times to remove portable signs that violated the city's sign laws. The complaint notes signs were removed at times and later replaced. The violations center around portable signs and attaching signs to trees or city-owned poles.
The city's sign laws allow one advertising sign placed on the sidewalk in front of a business, providing the sign is removed from the sidewalk and placed in the business at night. The sign laws allow only one portable sign in front of a business.
The complaint alleges the Kendalls erected other portable, off-premises signs on or about Jan. 15, 2003, in violation of city sign laws. The complaint states the city removed the sign on or about March 11, 2003, but the Kendalls mounted another sign at the corner of Main and Market streets, another violation of city laws.
The coffee shop, located at the corner of Water and Market streets, opened about 18 months, about the time work on revamping the waterfront and Stewart Parkway began.
While the city was involved in that construction, "We couldn't get any customers down here," Kendall said.
Kendall said he appeared before the city's Historic Preservation Commission to seek permission to display a sign at the intersection of Main and Market streets. Later, Kendall said, he was told he appeared before the wrong city board; he should have appeared before the Planning Board, which approved a general information sign.
Earlier this year, the city did erect a green-and-white sign that read "Coffee Shop" and included an arrow showing the way to the Kendalls' business.
About two weeks later, that sign came down.
After learning the sign had been erected, City Council members instructed city staff to remove it, saying it directed people to a specific business, and that was unfair to other downtown businesses. The council learned of the sign during its two-day planning session Feb. 3-4, when City Attorney Fred Holscher informed the council the Planning Department did not have the authority to approve the "Coffee Shop" sign -- that authority rests with the council.
At the session, Mayor Pro Tempore Judy Meier Jennette said if that sign was allowed to remain, other businesses would want similar ones. Mayor L. Stewart Rumley said the sign should come down. Rumley suggested asking the Downtown Washington Development Commission for its input on signs in the downtown area.
As for the green-and-white sign, "That's all we wanted," Kendall noted.