Ballooning: Rug shop fine inflates over $3,000

"I'm 60 years old; I'm not a child," protests Mahmood Pasha after being hauled into court for defying the county's balloon ordinance.

To former rug shop owner Mahmood Pasha, Albemarle County's ban on commercial use of balloons is a "stupid" law. "If balloons are illegal, why sell them?" he wonders after a March 23 General District Court appearance for a zoning violation that could cost him $3,200.

County Code prohibits "floating signs," as balloons are dubbed in a sign ordinance that took an Arby's owner to task in 2003 for flying an Arby's flag. Pennants, ribbons, spinners, and streamers are verboten, as are strobe lights, strings of lights... and balloons.

Pasha was cited October 31 for the balloon above his going-out-of-business Rug Depot shop on U.S. 29 North, and he was ordered to "cease and desist" by November 7.

According to the ordinance, a first violation brings a $200 penalty and that jumps to $500 for each subsequent violation. So when a zoning administrator drove by on November 21, December 2, January 9 and 21, and February 6 and 17 and observed the still-flying balloon, each trip earned Pasha an additional $500 penalty.

The $3,200-balloon at Rug Depot.

"That tenant has had a balloon frequently," says Albemarle zoning enforcement manager Rob Heide, pointing out that Pasha had 30 days to appeal the notice of violation, and didn't.

So what's the big deal with balloons anyway?

"I would imagine it has to do with safety and with aesthetics," answers Heide. "We've seen strong winds where the balloon is blown parallel to the roadway. If they descend into traffic, it's a distraction."

Heide says the county does not prosecute those who would tie balloons to a mailboxes to indicate the scene of a birthday party, nor has it sought to cite the ToyLift, an annual charitable event, notes Heide. The ordinance, he says, is "specifically tied to commercial use."

To area Libertarians, the county's regulation tramples liberty and free speech, and is business-unfriendly.

"We don't need bureaucrats to nitpick," declares John Munchmeyer, chairman of the Jefferson Area Libertarians, a group that rallied around Arby's owner Tom Slonaker when he was told to take down his flag. "This is the land of the free," adds Munchmeyer.

"It's a sign of celebration," agrees Pasha. "What's wrong with that? It's such a stupid law. Who is getting hurt? Is it heroin? Is it cocaine or crack?"

Pasha's store went out of business March 28, but he plans to return to court May 27 to protest the fine.

Meanwhile, his cross-the-street neighbor, Jim Price Chevrolet, has experimented with balloons of its own.

"It certainly has been open knowledge that Albemarle doesn't allow them," says Jim Price general manager Sandy Fewell, pointing out the dealership will fly them for Saturday sales, but hasn't gone in for the long-term inflatables.

"I think customers think it looks festive," says Fewell, who confesses he would like to have his own permanent balloon installation. "I like those little blimps," he says.

"The fact they're picking on [Pasha] is sad," says Fewell. "I thought they just picked on car dealers."

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This a perfect way for Albemarle to cut costs. Fire the idiots who go around causing trouble where there is none. They get sales tax on every sale, they get real estate tax on the building and they get more income tax on every employee. Get off of businesses backs and let us create jobs.

If I owned the business I would fly a balloon that says " WARNING don't do business in albemarle county they are anti business"

Then I would appeal it up the line.

If they want to make a reasonable restriction and require a setback that is fine but this is just another example of Government run amok.

This isn't over... was it over when the germans bombed pearl harbor? (germans?.(forget it he's rollin) .....and its not over now....

It also says "strings of lights" Are we banning Christmas now??? If not then should not this gentleman be aquitted under the "equal protection" clause in the constitution?

Well I don't know about the rest of you but I am not going to stay here while albemarle county bad mouths the UNTITED STATES OF AMERICA...... Gentleman

This whole "no sign" law is a bunch of hooey. If that is the case, then all of those signs outside the strip malls are illegal, stating what stores are closer in. Why? They're in the right of way. The tall Arby's sign is illegal because it's in the right of way. It also displays religious banter during various times of year, so let's take that away, too. It's offensive and has no place at a franchise. And fair's fair... take down the Sydney signs on 29. That's over and done with. In the right of way. Why not just cover all the signs with black cloth so we don't have to worry which are legal and which aren't?

My way, I'd put up a sign saying: This Is Not A Sign.

People who use Charlottesville as an example of good government are not taken seriously in this neck of the woods.
I'd rather look at balloons when I'm driving than look at what is called local architecture.

Look, Mr. Jefferson had no balloons, ergo no balloons. How did Going-Out-of-Business-Rug-Shop get built without red bricks and Palladian windows also? Coincidence? Hmm....

Any law loses legitamacy when it is not universally enforced. This is a bogus law for a bogus county that has bogus ideals about doing business. Get a clue Albemarle County and join the 21st century!

Clearly these laws (sign and balloon) were not developed by anyone with any kind of common sense, let alone business sense.

Way to help your county LOSE money!

When you enter Albemarle County from another county, there should be a sign...

welcome to Albemarle County
Certified Business Killer.

Too bad business people are not liberal loonbats. If they were, they could unite and shut down for a week. Anything provided by a business....from trinkets at Dollar Store, cars, heart bypass surgery, gasoline, lawn service, cancer treatment, fuel for Albemarle County vehicles, you name it, all services cease for a week. Let Albemarle beg for business.

"Pennants, ribbons, spinners, and streamers are verboten, as are strobe lights, strings of lights”Š and balloons."
Ha, ha! No wonder this town is dull, drab and doofy.

It is just a balloon. There are other businesses in the area that have balloons. They aren't as large, but still I don't see him getting fines. Plus, the county is just kicking this poor man when he is already down. SHAMEFUL!

This law is an embarrassment and should be rewritten by someone with common sense.

most of these laws are written to protect the citizens. dumbass drivers looking at distracting balloons and sparkly lights and not the road cause accidents. additionally, all of these things look terrible. albemarle is not alone in this law. charlottesville is just one example of another community that does not allow balloons and the like. if you want your county to look like a flea market, like virginia beach, then by all means get rid of the ordinance.

If you anyone thinks ballons cause less accidents than mascots parading around then they are the ones we need protection from...

There is nothing wrong with reasonable regulations, but the same government that is facing million dollar shortfalls should not stifle business since they get such a huge cut on every sale.

This town acts like it is superior to anywhere else.. what a joke...

I'd rather see people looking at balloons than texting as they drive( saw 4 drivers just this morning on a run up 29).

Pasha needs more of those pesky spheroids, not less. No matter what happens at his appeal, he should make his exit in a lawnchair powered by weather balloons.