The city council ultimately passed a resolution to award the Farmer’s Market “Special Event” status at its Monday night meeting. The resolution allows the Chamber of Commerce to erect three banners advertising the event, which takes place every Friday during the summer from 3 p.m.-6 p.m. on 6th Street in downtown Leeds.
Councilman Johnny Kile cast the lone vote of dissent, after telling the council he was not in favor of giving the market special treatment over local business owners.
“I have a problem with this because I’m getting calls from business owners in the city who say we’re writing citations for having banners,” Kile said. “The people (at the farmer’s market) sell produce that could be bought at stores in the city.”
Mayor Eric Patterson said the city is currently working to tweak its sign ordinance. Kile said he thought a moratorium on ordinance enforcement would be appropriate.
“People in the city who have licenses in the city are being harassed by this government because of signs,” he said. “I think we need a moratorium on enforcement of this to cover the businesses in the city.”
Councilman Kenneth Washington, who voted in favor of the resolution, agreed with Kile’s sentiment about the enforcement of the ordinance.
“I have a problem when you allow (the farmer’s market) to have banners and the ones that pay taxes in the city can’t have banners,” Washington said. “We need to change the way we have our sign ordinance, because it’s not helping our businesses.”
Council member Susan Carswell said that because the market is not a permanent business, it has no permanent signage.
“Our businesses who are here permanently can have permanent signage,” she said.
Councilman Ross Bartee said he also has concerns about the city’s ordinance, but said the resolution was at the request of the Leeds Area Chamber of Commerce.
“I think we should support our chamber,” Bartee said. “I’ve never heard any complaints about the Farmer’s Market.”
Kile said his problem is with “selective prosecution” of the ordinance. Specifically, he cited a case in which First Baptist Church in Leeds was ordered to take down a banner advertising Vacation Bible School.
“I did not ever say that we need to abandon the ordinance,” Kile said. “I just said put a moratorium on this banner deal, until we get to a point and come up with an ordinance that would suit our city.
“I’m not going to sit out here and get all over people because they got banners up. That’s our business – that’s where we make our money, is with them getting business and money, and get people to come to our town.”
Patterson said the city must enforce its regulations.
“The church problem is, everybody in here who goes to church, they’re all for Vacation Bible School,” Patterson said. “The problem is, when the banners went up for the churches, businesses called and said, ‘Why are you letting them have a banner when you’re not letting me have one?’ And then there we were, in the predicament. We don’t have a rule that allows for that; that’s what we’re trying to write.”
Patterson said the city was “wide open” four years ago, with regard to signs and unlicensed business operators.
“We put rules in place to try to clean some of that up,” he said. “Are there problems with them? Yes, there are problems with them. Are we going to fix those overnight? No. But while the rules are here, we can’t make exceptions.
“We’ve got two guys that go around and enforce these rules the best they can, and they take a lot of heat for it. They’re doing the best job they can, and if you ask people around the city, they’ll tell you Leeds has never looked better.”
Glenn Kirkland, who owns Huck’s Rib Shack, appeared before the council following the discussion to discuss the logo painted on the wall at his restaurant, which is in violation of the ordinance.
“I’m really here just because I found out I had to have an OK from the council to have my mural painted on the wall for my business,” Kirkland said.
He also said he planned — if he received approval from the city — to add the words “WELCOME TO LEEDS ALABAMA, FOUNDED 1887,” to his wall, facing the highway.
Patterson advised him to seek a variance from the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustments.
“I like your sign,” Patterson said. “However, the problem is, the council can’t approve that.
“That (variance) legally covers us. It does look good … but we can’t compare what we aesthetically like. One person’s art is another person’s trash. That’s the problem you have.”
Kirkland said he planned to be at City Hall early Tuesday to find out more.
Contact Will Heath at email@example.com.