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Appeal board denies ministry request for Erwin sign ordinance waiver

Sue Guinn Legg • Oct 23, 2017 at 10:38 PM

ERWIN — The Erwin Board of Zoning appeals on Monday denied a waiver of the town’s new comprehensive sign ordinance that leaders of the nonprofit Josephs Helping Hands Ministry for Unicoi County students says is running the ministry out of business.

Lynn Bradshaw, a downtown property owner and the chief backer of the ministry’s thrift store at 111 Union St., asked for the waiver to drive Main Avenue traffic and potential shoppers down the little-traveled side street.

Since the ordinance was enacted earlier this year, Bradshaw said the shop has been prohibited from setting out the flutter flags that he attributed for a large percentage of the shop’s business. 

Without the flags, he said the sales have dropped about 90 percent and the ministry founded and coordinated by his teenage grandson, Joseph Green, has lost most of its primary sources of funding.

With the flags on the street through the majority of its first year of operation, Bradshaw said the ministry was able to provide not only free clothing for Unicoi County students in need but also free clothes and household items for local families who had lost their homes in fires, a trailer load of supplies for fire victims in Sevier County, gifts and food for 47 needy families at Christmas, and backpacks loaded with school supplies for about 50 children.

Problems with the flutter flags cited by the board members included violations of numerous provisions of the town’s new comprehensive sign ordinance as well as a danger presented by distracted motorists and by anyone who might trip over the flag’s cement base on the sidewalk or right of way in front of the store.

When Bradshaw cited the dozens of flutter flags that were flown by vendors and others at the town’s recent downtown apple festival, Mayor Doris Hensley said control of downtown streets is handed over entirely to the county Chamber of Commerce during the festival and the Chamber is responsible for anything that happens during the event.

Town Building Inspector Brian Tapp told the board he is willing to work with Bradshaw on an alternative to the flutter flags, and believes they may be able to come up with something feasible.

When asked if he would be willing to work with Tapp, Bradshaw praised the effort Tapp has made for the thrift store so far, but expressed doubt that he would be able to find a solution.

“There are so many issues that are wrong. ‘Is it a flag or a sign?’ is the first hurdle. For sure it won’t work (mounted) on the building. You run out of options eventually, and it would be a waste of his time and mine to try to go in and work out something out,” Bradshaw said.

In the end, the request for the waiver failed for lack of a motion. Bradshaw said afterward the thrift store may need to start over in another location outside of Erwin.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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