If you’ve traveled past Alan Besco Car and Truck Superstore in Xenia on a sales day, you might have seen a 25-foot tall, red, white and blue American eagle standing tall in the middle of the used car lot.
Besco has used the large “Annie the Eagle” inflatable 10 days out of the month for about two years, but now the city is enforcing a relatively new zoning code change that puts a height-limit of 12 feet on “balloon signs,” according to city records.
Co-owner Melanie Atley said they’ve put the $10,000 novelty away in a bag, for now. After losing the Board of Zoning Appeals’ decision to not grant an exemption to the long-standing business, Atley said they are planning to file an appeal in Greene County Common Pleas Court.
“We’re just asking to do what we’ve been doing for 20 years,” Atley said. “Everybody wants us to keep it up … I don’t know why the rules have to change all of a sudden.”
Inflatables are banned in other Greene County communities. Beavercreek does not allow “inflatables, wind feathers, banners or other similar signage,” according to Planning and Development Director Jeff McGrath.
A similar prohibition is in place in the city of Fairborn, according to City Planner Kathleen Riggs.
The city of Xenia updated its zoning code in 2016, including setting the 12-foot balloon sign rule, but it also limits displays of inflatables to only 14 days out of the year.
City Manager Brent Merriman sent a letter to Besco in October 2017 outlining their options, which included applying for a variance.
“As we must be consistent in our enforcement of zoning code, I cannot unilaterally give you an exemption allowing your business to exceed these parameters,” Merriman’s letter reads.
Xenia City Planner Brian Forschner said Besco displayed the inflatable and didn’t apply for a variance until after the city reminded them of the code change. He said BZA’s decision was not based on personal feelings or opinions, but facts established in a staff report, which included an analysis of the city’s “land development code’s variance approval criteria.”
“They talked to us and we discussed the city’s sign regulations with them and we informed them in 2016 that they would not be able to have a balloon sign as large as what they wanted,” Forschner said. “
Atley contends they were never given a definitive answer by the city in 2016, so they moved forward with the purchase of the eagle inflatable, which replaced an aging “Dorothy the Dinosaur” inflatable that Besco previously used for about 20 years.
The dealership has been selling used cars in Xenia for 37 years. Atley said they’ve never had a complaint about their use of the large eye-catchers, adding that they’ve loaned “Annie the Eagle” to other entities in the community, including the library.
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“We are one of the longest standing businesses in Xenia,” she said. “I don’t feel like we’re asking for anything different than what we’ve been doing for 20 years.”
Councilman Dale Louderback said he supports Besco’s stance and will be working to see how the city rule can be changed.
“I just think it’s antiquated and a silly rule and I’d like to see it change,” Louderback said. “Xenia has a reputation as being anti-business. That sounds like a harsh statement, but it’s true … small businesses in Xenia especially need all the help they can get.”
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