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A $95,200 fine -- for this?

By Scott Tibbs, July 2, 2008

This week, a local developer and the City of Bloomington clashed in small claims court over "one or two balloons" affixed to a leasing sign at MeadowCreek apartments. The city's planning department ruled the balloons to be "illegal temporary signage", and ordered Renaissance Rentals to pay $952 for the violations, or one percent of the potential fine of $95,200. For its part, Renaissance Rentals claims the balloons were a decoration, not a sign. Before we go further, let's look at the offending signage, thanks to the street view feature of Google Maps.

Seriously? $95,000 for this? You're kidding, right?

This is exactly the kind of silliness that people have been complaining about for many years from the city of Bloomington - a city dominated by Democrats, who have held a 7-2 majority on the City Council for the past 8 years. Renaissance Rentals owner Tim Henke was correct to call the city's claim that it could impose a $95,000 fine "inappropriate bullying." If the city's contention is that they have never asked for that amount, why would they even mention it, if not as a means to intimidate Renaissance Rentals into compliance through the threat of significant (and perhaps crippling) monetary loss if the property owner did not comply?

Sadly, this is not a unique situation. Last year, Bloomington residents learned that the city never obtained the legal right of way to build a sidewalk through a local resident's yard to connect two streets in the 1970's, and now arrogantly claims that they have the right to the land now because no one discovered the fraud for three decades. In late 2005, the City Council was determined to dictate the design of the new CVS building before they were informed they did not have the legal authority to do so. The new CVS building revitalized a blighted area by replacing a boarded-up former Burger King that had been abandoned for years and was bordered by "adult" businesses on two sides.

Reasonable, common-sense regulations meant to keep the city attractive are one thing. Going completely overboard and attempting to intimidate local businesses with threats of ridiculously disproportionate fines are quite another. At what point will the citizens of Bloomington say "enough is enough" and elect city leaders who do not think they know what is best for every business and homeowner in Bloomington?

The relevant portions of city code are below. (b) (1) - Temporary or portable business or product-for-sale signs and signs or devices consisting of a series of banners, streamers, pennants, balloons, propellers, strung light bulbs, or similar devices are prohibited. All signs which move by mechanical means or by the movement of air except for public information signs shall be prohibited in all districts.

20.05.078 (h) (8) - Temporary Signs. Any temporary sign not specifically permitted in Section 20.05.079, SI-02 (Sign standards--Temporary signs), including, but not limited to, pennants, streamers, balloons, inflatable signs, spinners, and banners, except when specifically permitted in Section 20.05.079: SI-02 (Sign standards--Temporary signs).