Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

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February 8, 2013

Avon facing lawsuit over 'living sign' ban

AVON — A dispute over "living signs" has resulted in a lawsuit against the town here.

Victor Ruthig owns two Liberty Tax franchises in Avon. Part of their business model involves using people dressed either as Uncle Sam or the Statue of Liberty standing outside the shop and waving to passers-by. Angela Walston, who manages the Liberty Tax at 8105 E. U.S. 36, estimates almost half of their business comes from these "wavers."

"When people come in, we ask them how they heard about Liberty. About half of them say they saw our waver," said Walston, who added that some clients specifically look for the mascot when searching for Liberty Tax.

Ruthig has operated in Avon since 2006, originally at a location along State Road 267. Town officials would periodically inspect their wavers, but permit them as long as they stayed out of the right-of-way.

In 2008, the town considered amending its zoning ordinance to include "living signs" that would effectively ban wavers such as Liberty Tax's. They ultimately dropped the proposal.

The issue remained dormant until last tax season. Ruthig says town officials threatened to fine him unless he stopped using his mascots.

"It was pretty damaging to our business at the end (of tax season)," he said.

That summer, Ruthig moved his office from State Road 267 to its current location along Rockville Road. He filed a variance with the town for permission to use wavers at the new address. The Avon Board of Zoning Appeals denied it at its Oct. 18, 2012, meeting.

The main reason cited was that such mascots cause a safety issue. Joe Smoker, Avon's assistant planner, wouldn't comment directly on this pending litigation but referred to his staff report to the BZA that recommended denying Liberty Tax's variance.

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