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InsiderOnline Blog: December 2010

Striking Back at the Tyranny of Zoning Officials

If you are in the mood for a fairly ridiculous story of a government official abusing her authority, check out the latest lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice. Apparently, officials in Arlington Country, Va., don’t understand what the First Amendment means.

IJ is representing Kim Houghton in a lawsuit against the county. Houghton recently started a business called Wag More Dogs, which provides daycare and boarding services for dogs. Before opening, Houghton commissioned a mural to be painted on the back of her facility, which borders a community dog park. Naturally, the mural depicted dogs at play. If the mural had just depicted dinosaurs at play, the county would have been OK with this artistic enhancement of the neighborhood. But, because the mural portrayed dogs and Houghton’s business was dogs, one county zoning official decided that the mural constituted a commercial sign and that it ran afoul of the county’s regulations on commercial signs. The official told Houghton she would get neither a business permit nor a certificate of occupancy until she covered up the mural.

Houghton had the guts to follow her passion for dogs and start a business. But rather than thank her for adding to the economy, the county government has asked her to trade away her constitutional right of free speech. Writing in the Washington Times, Houghton says: “If it weren't for IJ, I would have had to give in because zoning officials are that intimidating and that powerful. Arlington County officials have the power to close my doors forever at their whim, and they have shown they are not shy about using that power.”

Hopefully, with IJ’s help, Houghton will be able to tear down the ugly blue tarp that the county forced her to put over her mural. For more on the case, check out IJ’s video on it.

Posted on 12/02/10 11:26 AM by Alex Adrianson

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