Flying bust: Rug store owner floored by balloon fine

news-rugdepot-vert1Mahmood Pasha's floating signs originally cost him close to $200, but will now cost the store owner $3,200.

Mahmood Pasha fought the law, but the law won.  As a result, the former rug store owner will pay for the most expensive balloons of his life.

"I definitely always love to obey the law," Pasha said.  Unless, of course, it's what he terms "a stupid law."

During a nearly two-hour trial May 27 in Albemarle General District Court, the owner of the now-closed Rug Depot was found to have violated zoning code and fined $3,200.

Community planner John Jones told the Court that the code prohibits "floating signs," any sort of floating or tethered device that "brings attention to the business that it is associated with."  For example, balloons tied to a sign outside a rug store.

Jones testified that he first spotted balloons outside Pasha's store, which was then operating at 2165 Seminole Trail on October 28. Jones testified that he told Pasha that day he was in violation and sent a formal notice of violation three days later.  Despite the warnings, Jones testified, Rug Depot continued to utilize balloons until the store's closing in March.

Even Pasha confirmed that each photograph introduced into evidence truthfully portrayed the scene and that he was aware of the law even before Jones alerted him to the provision.  So why fight?

For Pasha, bright balloons provided not only advertisement for his going-out-of-business shop but also gave drivers "a happy moment."  But, most importantly, Pasha says, it was important to fight what he believes should be changed.

And at trial, Pasha came ready to fight.  His choice weapons included photographs of other local businesses using "floating signs" as well as signatures from 52 local business operators who would put up some floating signs of their own.

But Pasha never got the chance to use these tools. As the nearly two-hour trial neared its end, the County moved for a summary judgement, and after several unrecognized protests and comments from Pasha, Judge Robert Downer found him in violation.  "The law is what it is," said Judge Downer, noting that if Pasha wanted balloons, he could have put his business outside Albemarle.

Pasha was found to have committed eight instances of floating signs– $200 for the first violation after the warning and $500 for each documented subsequent act. Like all other acts of civil disobedience, the judge noted, the lawbreaker must be willing to accept the punishment.

After trial, Pasha said he does not plan on appealing the case, but said he may continue to press for the right for him and others to fly their signs.


How about this? How about if Judge Downer finds the tools on the Albemarle Planning Commission guilty of chronically violating the tenets of Best Zoning Practices in granting almost every critical slopes waiver that comes before their beady little eyes? Then we'd be getting somewhere!

Pasha's balloon, or Wendell Wood's moonscape down the street-- what's the difference? They're both eyesores, but only one is actively harming the environment.

well wendel wood had to get a permit to clear the land for his new shopping nonsense first and what he his doing on his land is legal.
But beside that it's exactly the same thing.

Tommy had a dog? I knew he had slaves but didn't know about the dogs.

maybe he should float a balloon that says don't do business in albemarle county it is overun with enforcment zealots.

I assume he still has first amendment rights.

That balloon never gave me a "happy moment" when I drove past it. I mostly thought "damn, what is that ugly distracting thing floating in the sky alongside the road?"

29N is ugly enough and large ugly balloons don't help matters.

However, I think the truck trailers that double as billboards are a far worse violation of County code.

It's time the County enforced its ordinances, before 29 starts to look like Highway 17 in Myrtle Beach.

Who cares? Our local government has no more (and certainly no less) power hungry ninnies that enjoy making a capital case out of a minor annoyance. Pay up and move on Pasha. The next group of power hungry ninnies is waiting for you and your meaningless act of rebillion.

What is outrageous in this story is how we citizens let lawmakers and judges get away with acting like deity. I've seen this time and again: there's no such thing as a FAIR civil trial in America today because the judges are all powerful. People WAKE UP! This is the land of the HIGH and MIGHTY, not the land of the FREE!!!!!!!!!

This Albemarle county is worried about a balloon but allows dogs to bark non-stop if you park your dogs on 5 acres? It seems they are worried about appearance above everthing else.

Vertico, let me add some fact to your presumtion in as few words as possible: Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society

Shopkeepers will continue to do this so long as judges let them earn ten, twenty, thirty times what the fine is by violating the law. If this had been a $30,000 fine, if would have (a) been fair, and (b) sent shopkeepers the right message instead of the wrong one.

Dr C

The message thsi government is sending to shopkeepers is to not take any risks creating jobs because the GOVERNMENT IS AGAINST YOU.

Emmision and safety laws are one thing, petty crap like this is another.