City manager Brian Muenger said he and the City Council believe “the board overstepped its bounds by giving a variance where no legal hardship exists.” The only way to appeal a variance awarded by the board is to take the matter to circuit court, which the city has now done. No hearing dates had been set as of Thursday afternoon.
Muenger said problems with the board began when it awarded a variance to someone who wanted to build a four unit apartment building on a vacant lot without adequate parking or sufficient setbacks on three sides. “So we had some board training in December about what constitutes a legal hardship. The most common one we see, especially in the Knoxville area, is small lots that were designed for shotgun houses or single-wide trailers. Under the manufactured home ordinance, it would have to face the street, but if there’s not room to turn it that way on the lot, they can get a variance.”
Michael Gee, owner of Michael’s Menswear, initially asked the board for a variance that would allow him to use 36 inch tall letters on his sign. The city’s sign ordinance limits the size to 12 inches.
The request for the 36 inch high lettering got three votes from the five member panel, but four are needed for a variance.
Gee came back before the board March 14 and asked for permission to use 17 inch high letters. Board members Harvey Bowlin Sr., Charles Yates, Cheryl Cooper and Gail Carter voted yes. Board chairwoman Martha Jordan voted no.
Gee said during the meeting that the store had used the same logo for 44 years, and he did not believe it would be legible at only 12 inches high.
The city filed notice of intent to appeal the ruling to circuit court the following day. The complaint was e-filed March 28.
All of the board members except Jordan have since resigned, Muenger said.
It was not immediately clear how the board would be able to respond to the appeal, since it has no budget and cannot currently establish a quorum to do business even if it did.
“Rules can be bent in certain situations,” Muenger said, “but that’s not the purpose of this board. Rules become meaningless if they are not enforced. We (the city) will approach things with an open mind, but the Board of Adjustments and Appeals is not a rule making body.”
Gee approached the council Monday night to ask for the sign ordinance to be amended, and was advised to approach the Planning Commission first.
Council President Donnie Miller told Gee the council could not discuss the issue with him while the current litigation was pending.