Flying bust: Rug store owner floored by balloon fine
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.