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Monday, February 25, 2013

Ind. Gov't. - "Avon faces lawsuit over costumed mascots"

Kristine Guerra reports today in the Indianapolis Star in a long story including video and photos:

You see them along thoroughfares and outside shopping centers. Dressed in character — Uncle Sam, Lady Liberty, maybe the Grim Reaper — they often dance and wave at passing drivers, trying to draw them to their nearby business.

But not in Avon. Planners in the Hendricks County town say “wavers’’ distract drivers and pose risks to public safety. A , local franchise specializing in tax services has responded by challenging Avon’s zoning laws in a civil lawsuit alleging violation of the First Amendment right to free commercial speech.

“We want to have the ability to use those wavers because it’s part of our business model” said Victor Ruthig, who owns two franchises of Liberty Tax Service in Avon. “Our costumed wavers are like the golden arches to McDonald’s. “It’s an icon during tax season that equates to getting your taxes done.”

The suit filed in November in Hendricks County Court claims that the town’s safety concerns are unfounded, and that there had never been any accidents caused by wavers since a Liberty Tax Service franchise opened in 2006 along U.S. 36. * * *

At issue is whether wavers should be considered signs. Town officials think so, saying wavers are “moving signs” prohibited under the current zoning ordinance.

Liberty Tax disagrees.

Matt Price, an Indianapolis-based land use and zoning attorney representing Liberty Tax, said the term “sign” does not apply to wavers or mascots, and Avon should identify them as something more specific.

The town, however, did attempt to specifically classify — and prohibit — wavers.

In 2008, Avon initiated amendments to its zoning laws to refer to wavers as “living signs,” including company mascots whose purpose is to promote an organization or business. The amendment aimed to prohibit such signs except as an expression of political opinion. The Town Council sent the amendment back to the planning commission where it eventually died, [Joe Smoker, assistant planner in Avon] said.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 25, 2013 08:34 AM
Posted to Indiana Government