- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 5, 2015

BUCHANAN, Va. (AP) - Buchanan officials and a couple are at odds over more than a dozen storefront signs that criticize the town.

The Buchanan Planning Commission unanimously voted on July 17 to find Ken and Francine Bray in violation of the town’s sign ordinance. The violations included displaying signs on a closed business and signs occupying more than 30 percent of the building’s window space, The Roanoke Times (https://bit.ly/1eSyVdd) reported.

Ken Bray said the commission’s action is a violation of his First Amendment rights because the signs are a political statement.

He said the town has not cited other businesses that are violating the sign ordinance.

“This is a bullying process, as far as I am concerned,” Bray told the newspaper. “They don’t like the idea that I’m criticizing the town.”

Town attorney Joe Obenshain said the violations are based on how the signs are displayed and not their content.

“We think the town is on solid ground enforcing its neutral regulations of a sign’s size and placement,” Obenshain said.

Most of the 16 signs allege that the town refused to issue business licenses or permits for Glow-A-Rama. The youth recreation center included an 18-hole indoor golf course and a game room, all under the glow of black light fluorescent bulbs.

Bray said town officials had rejected applications for business licenses to add new attractions, including a black light wedding chapel. He said the business had to close after town officials told him and his wife on Jan. 18, 2014, that they could not a host a teen dance. He said Glow-A-Rama had hosted more than 200 dances, and the events had become a key part of the business.

Town Manager Mary Zirkle said the Brays never applied for the new uses under the town’s zoning laws. She also said the town did not issue a sign permit when Glow-A-Rama opened because the Brays’ application lacked required information.

The Brays are consulting with the nonprofit Institute for Justice.

“Buchanan’s actions raise grave constitutional concerns,” Sam Gedge, an attorney for the institute, told the newspaper. “The First Amendment strongly protects the right of people to use their property to convey political messages.

Other businesses in Buchanan have put up signs supporting the town.


Information from: The Roanoke Times, https://www.roanoke.com

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