In July the Knoxville City Council in Tennessee approved a new sign ordinance outlawing signs on the top of businesses roofs, with an exception for artwork, according to the local ABC affiliate WATE.com. Presumably, the regulation was meant to prevent big chains from mounting massive, flashy eyesores in an attempt to attract business from the nearby highway. However, the first challenge to the ordinance has come from a much different source.
Peggy Hambright has owned the local Magpies Bakery for over 12 years. Hambright had wanted to put a sign of a cartoon butter and egg on the top of her business for awhile, but didn’t have the necessary funds. She was saving up the money, however; why wouldn’t she, given that 50% of new customers say they are attracted to businesses by an outdoor sign? She did finally save up enough to mount the porcelain figures, but that was after the ordinance had passed. She knew about the new regulation, but was anticipating her sign would fall under the art exemption.
“I believe this is a work of art, and I think it would be really great iconic piece of art up there to welcome people to the neighborhood,” Hambright said.
Unfortunately, the Knoxville Plans Review and Inspections Division makes the final decision on such matters and they see the situation differently. The director of the division, Peter Ahrens, made the initial ruling that it wasn’t art, and therefore a violation.
“As we looked at their website, it almost seemed that the egg and the butter became a logo, almost like a Nike Swoosh,” Ahrens said. “Where you see the butter and egg dancing, you think of Magpies, and that’s how they are trying to brand their business. That would be considered advertising.”
The next step for Hamright is to appeal to the city Board of Zoning Appeals, which cost her $250 and will not be heard until October. If denied there, she would go directly to the City Council. Until then, Hamright is hopeful the board will see it as a positive for the community.
“If a business is willing to spend $10,000 of its own money to make their neighborhood more appealing, why should the city be opposed? It can only be a good thing for everyone,” she said. “There has to be a way to make an exception in the ordinance to accommodate neighborhoods such as ours and the Magnolia Avenue corridor to allow us to make our businesses stand out from the blight.”