Taxi’s rooftop ads remain unlawful

At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, Alderman Bobby Ferrell proposed an amendment to Fayetteville’s sign ordinance that would allow taxicabs to have advertisements on their roofs. To be more specific, Northwest Arkansas Taxi, a cab company currently operating in Rogers, Bentonville and Springdale, wanted to expand to Fayetteville, but the ads affixed to the top of their cabs are unlawful in the city.

In a 7-1 vote, the amendment was denied, as council members seemed intent on keeping the sign ordinance intact.

Alderman Robert Rhoads said although he wanted to help businesses that serve the public, the sign ordinance makes Fayetteville different.

“It’s a distinction that I think we need to preserve,” Rhoads said.

“I too am very proud of our sign ordinance,” Alderman Shirley Lucas said. “I think it makes Fayetteville unique.”

City Attorney Kit Williams advised the council that exemptions to the ordinance might make it more susceptible to lawsuits.

“It’s stronger the fewer exemptions we allow,” Williams said.

Alderman Bobby Ferrell argued that the council was looking for reasons to vote against the amendment as opposed to trying to support it, and suggested that allowing the cab company to do business in Fayetteville might assuage drunk-driving instances.

“It seems rather inconsistent…that we would not allow this business to bring his taxicabs down here to Dickson Street…where we have someone who needs a ride for fear that we’re going to have a California or some other state law firm come in here and try and sue us over saving people,” Ferrell said.

Fayetteville has a stringent and detailed sign ordinance that was passed back in 1972. The ordinance prohibits off-site signs, and electronic signs that flash or blink. It sets regulations for the height and width of signage and prohibits posting signs on utility poles and trees.

The ordinance has been contested in court eight times. In 2002, a Fayetteville business owner filed a $10 million lawsuit against the city over enforcement of the regulation. The business had a flashing sign in its window that displayed messages such as “Choose Life,” “God Listens” and “” In 2006, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard the suit, and upheld the constitutionality of the ordinance.

It has been argued that Fayetteville’s sign ordinance detracts business. The Cracker Barrel, for example, was all set to come to Fayetteville, but their sign was too big according to the ordinance. So, the restaurant was allowed out of its contract and instead, set up shop in Springdale. This of course led to the Flyer’s favorite quote of the mayoral debate last fall.

This sign ordinance gets a lot of play in our city. If you’ll remember, just a couple of weeks ago, Lowlife Tattoo was granted a permit by the council to continue to operate on Archibald Yell. It was a sign violation that originally kick-started City staff’s attention on the tattoo parlor. And, it wasn’t until after investigating for the signage issue that the Planning Commission discovered the owner had not obtained the correct business permit.

So what do you think? Are you in favor of Fayetteville’s sign ordinance? Think it detracts business? Anybody distressed about driving to Springdale to patron the Cracker Barrel?