Editorial: We like Frosty too, but rules exist for a reason

Jan. 29, 2013 @ 07:52 PM

We hate to be a wet blanket, but today it can’t be avoided.

Although fans of the two-story, inflatable Frosty the Snowman that beckoned to drivers on Morganton Boulevard during the Christmas season wasted no time booing the decision not to make an exception for it in Lenoir’s advertising restrictions, it’s hard to see how the Lenoir Board of Adjustment could have ruled any other way.

The question isn’t whether Larry Smith’s giant snowman was whimsical and evoked fond childhood Christmas memories. When dealing with issues of zoning and advertising, you have to follow the argument for a change or exception to its logical conclusion.

The conclusion you come to is: If you allow Frosty at the corner of Morganton Boulevard and Mulberry Street, what’s to stop every other business owner on every main artery from asking for permission for a temporary, 35-feet-high, inflatable somethingorother? The city can’t say yes to one business owner just because he was the first to ask for permission, then turn down everyone else.

It might seem unlikely that Lenoir would become an open-air funhouse of cartoon giants, but all sorts of unlikely scenarios and outrageous advertising stunts are the reasons that local governments come up with zoning and sign rules in the first place – someone somewhere pushed the envelope and did the unlikely.

Smith’s lawyer, Joe Delk III, suggested Monday night that the city come up with a system to issue 30-day permits for such displays. The thought was echoed by a reader on the News-Topic’s Facebook bulletin about the board’s decision.

We’re skeptical that’s actually a solution, for the very same reason, unless the permits had such limitations on them that getting one would be difficult or expensive.

But we do have one suggestion: Lenoir should waive or reduce Smith’s fine. This has been a valuable learning experience for all involved – and a mighty public spectacle that cost the public nothing to see. That’s worth something.