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Ordinance dispute: ‘sign’ of the times?
Town of Farragut files lawsuit against Pilot alleging sign change equals ordinance violation

The town of Farragut has filed a lawsuit against the Pilot Corp. alleging that the Pilot store at 701 N. Campbell Station Road is in violation of the Farragut sign ordinance.

Tom Hale, attorney for the town of Farragut, said the town position on the matter is that Pilot violated the town sign ordinance when it rebuilt the store in late 2004.

“The town has in its sign ordinance a grandfather section that would grandfather signs that were in use prior to the time that the sign ordinance went into effect,” Hale said. “The sign ordinance requires that if a sign is going to be grandfathered then it cannot be changed. If it is changed, then it must be brought into compliance.”

Farragut Municipal Code 9-407, which deals with grandfathered signs, states, “Existing signs which were legally in existence prior to the adoption of this chapter, which do not conform to the specific provisions of this chapter, are declared legal nonconforming signs. Any legal nonconforming sign may be continued in operation and maintenance after the effective date of this chapter, provided: the sign is not relocated or replaced; the structure or size of the sign is not altered in any way except toward compliance with the chapter. This does not refer to change of text of changeable copy signs or normal maintenance; no new or additional signs are added to the premises; other than changing the text of changeable copy signs, no other existing signs are changed or replaced on the premises.”

Hale said when the Pilot store was rebuilt, the town had the understanding that the original sign was going to remain the same.

In December 2004, Hale said Farragut Community Development Coordinator Mark Shipley discovered new Pilot and Pay at the Pump decals were placed on the site. Shipley also discovered that portions of the grandfathered sign were altered. Specifically, he said in the town’s lawsuit, the portion of the sign saying “food mart” was removed and added a portion that states “car wash.” In addition, Hale states in his court complaint that “Pilot also replaced the changeable copy panels that advertise its gas prices with entirely different sign panels.”

Hale said Pilot was informed that these changes negated the grandfather clause and that it would have to bring the sign into compliance. He said the company indicated it would do so and presented ground-mounted signs that were later reviewed and approved by the Farragut Visual Resources Review Board. He said the company didn’t follow through on those plans.

“If the company is going to spend money to change its sign, then why shouldn’t they be required to have the same sign as everyone else,” Hale said.

Pilot attorney Greg Isaacs was out of the country on vacation and unavailable for comment. In his answer to the lawsuit, Isaacs said the store “changed the text on a portion of the sign face so that it would read “car wash” instead of “food mart” and updated the changeable copy panels that advertise its gas prices, as part of its normal maintenance and display of commercial speech.

Isaacs said in the answer that “although these changes complied with Farragut Municipal Ordinance 9-407,” the town officials still approached the company about being in violation of their grandfathered status.

Isaacs contends in his answer that the Pilot sign is covered by a state grandfather clause for zoning issues and that the Farragut Municipal Ordinance “constitutes an unreasonable restraint on commercial speech.”

No trial date is pending in the case.


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