Press Release 6/14/21: City Sign Code Enforcement Update
Residents, business owners, and stakeholders of the City of Buffalo continue to express interest in the ongoing city efforts to enforce the City’s sign code. When property owners do not voluntarily comply with the city’s code, enforcement can be an extended process including administrative action by the City and legal action within the county court system. Below is an update on the code enforcement process being pursued by the City of Buffalo against the property owner violating the City’s sign code with a large flag flying from a 150-foot crane visible from many parts of Buffalo.
Process Update as of Monday, 6/14/21
The City began enforcement on the Johnsonville LLC property in early 2021 utilizing the City’s code enforcement department to educate the property owner on city code requirements and attempt to gain voluntary compliance. After efforts at voluntary compliance were unsuccessful, the City Council authorized the administrative citation process which involved issuing citations for each violation of the size and method of hanging violations. The final City-controlled step in the process was the appeals hearing requested by the property owner. The outcome of the hearing was Buffalo’s City Council upholding the citations, accepting the written findings, and escalating the violations to civil court.
The City believes that the quickest and most effective resolution will be found in pursuing civil action. The City is seeking injunctive relief in civil court. The matter will be filed shortly and then the next step will be assignment of a judge and placement on the court calendar. The City hopes the legal process will result in a court order demanding that the flag be removed in compliance with City Code. City Council and staff cannot influence or accelerate this process and as with any legal matter, significant time can be required. The City knows that for many residents and stakeholders the delay can be frustrating and appreciates the continued patience that will be required for resolution of the code violation.
Frequently Asked Questions
The City has received over 200 inquiries and comments on the large flag violating the city’s sign code. Some of the common questions and the City’s response are included below:
1. Why is a flag regulated by sign code?
At the May 17th appeal hearing, the City Council upheld the determination that the flag is a sign under the meaning of City Code. Buffalo City Code defines “signs” as “use of words, numerals, figures, devices, or trademarks by which anything is made known such as individuals, firms, professionals, businesses, services or products and which is visible to the general public”. The broad definition of sign within the City Code does include flags.
2. If a resident does not mow their lawn and therefore violates City Code, the City may send someone out to mow the lawn and then charge the resident for the maintenance. Why doesn’t the City do something similar in this situation and remove the flag?
The City has established precedent for lawn mowing and the City is equipped to safely mow lawns. In order to remove the flag the City would have to operate the crane. We cannot do so, so we need a court order for the property owner to remove the flag. There is no precedent for a flag removal of the type involved, and the City needs to establish a firm legal basis before taking further action.
3. Is the property owner getting fined every day the flag is still up?
The property owner is being fined $200 every other week the flag is erected. The property owner continues to appeal the administrative penalties per the City Code. Daily fines are generally reserved for issues which are an immediate threat to public safety. The Buffalo Police Department continues to monitor the situation and does not believe it currently constitutes an immediate and ongoing public safety threat. Typically, increasing the amount of a fine beyond a certain amount does not increase the likelihood of gaining compliance. The City’s main goal is compliance, not revenue generation.
As always, City staff remains available to answer your questions or concerns via email (CityOffices@ci.buffalo.mn.us) or phone (763.682.1181). You will be directed to the right city team member to provide further information or take necessary action.