A judge has ruled against the owner of the Forest Lakes Arby’s in his latest dispute with Albemarle County, slapping the restaurateur with $1,000 fines for each violation of the county’s sign ordinance.
The business owner, Tom Slonaker, is an outspoken critic of what he deems excessive and unfair enforcement of county regulations. Slonaker has argued that Albemarle is effectively anti-business, while the county has maintained that his use of signs violated the county’s zoning ordinance.
General District Judge William G. Barkley ordered Slonaker to pay $1,000 per sign violation plus interest, according to court records. Slonaker is facing three warrants in debt.
Lee Catlin, the county’s spokeswoman, said the “great majority” of code cases don’t get to the trial stage. Slonaker’s case was heard in front of Barkley on Sept. 28 in Albemarle General District Court.
“The ruling obviously indicates that the judge concurred with county’s finding of violation in this situation,” Catlin said. “We believe that speaks for itself for the merits of the case.”
Slonaker’s attorney, Larry Miller, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. The defense lawyer previously has said he expects the case to be appealed no matter Barkley’s decision.
According to court records, an appeal has not yet been filed.
The county cited Slonaker in April, May and June for having signs placed without permits and advertising vehicles for Cville Inflatables that weren’t parked in “approved parking spaces.” Cville Inflatables is a side business that Slonaker runs from the Arby’s property. He testified in September that he didn’t have a business license to operate it from his restaurant’s property.
Slonaker also said in court last month that he asked employees to remove all of the signs on light poles, but he didn’t notice one sign that was left up because of temporary blindness from several eye surgeries.
The restaurateur has accused the county of selective code enforcement because he sees other businesses in the area with similar signs. The county has said its visit to Slonaker’s business was precipitated by a complaint, and the county’s code enforcement officers are trying to make regular visits in the county’s development area.