On Monday, the Statesville Planning Board scraped together a quorum of five members during a special midday meeting and approved a recommendation to Statesville City Council to increase the flag size limit.
The Council Chambers were surprisingly empty of news cameras or outspoken citizens. Only a handful of city staff sat on the benches as five of six board members, one county member and two alternates discussed the history, reasoning and possible amendments to Statesville’s flag ordinance.
The existing ordinance limits flag size to 25-by-40 feet. The flag flying off Interstate 77 in front of Gander RV on Morland Drive is 40-by-80 feet, the size of a tennis court. City staff suggested the ordinance be amended to limit flag size to 40-by-80 feet.
These large flags are only allowed in areas zoned for Highway Business or General Business. The property must have at least 100 feet along an interstate.
“We’re not allowed to regulate the content of flags, so basically, the American flag can be treated no different than the Canadian flag or the ISIS flag,” Statesville Senior Planner Andrew Ventresca said when asked for the reasoning behind the ordinance.
A 2015 Supreme Court ruling found that regulating the content of a flag is violating an individual’s freedom of speech. Ventresca said council was looking to avoid giant flags with offensive content by limiting the size of all flags in Statesvillle.
Board member Todd Lange read several federal guidelines for using and maintaining an American flag.
“Advertising is not one of those things that is an appropriate use of the American flag,” board member Todd Lange said. “On the other hand, it’s almost subjective to figure out what’s exactly advertising and what’s not. In this case, there’s been heck of a lot of mileage that the company and the store has gotten from this at the expense of the City of Statesville.”
Lange said in his opinion, Gander RV was using the flag to express patriotism and gain advertising equally.
Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis has said that there is no motive of advertising behind the giant flags.
Lange also suggested the federal guidelines for handling an American flag be included in the city’s ordinance.
“Anybody who wants to go ahead and do this needs to step up to the expense and the maintenance and the very specific requirements for keeping that flag the way it should be in a respectful manner,” Lange said.
Board members Lange, Bernard Robertson, Larry Rosenfeld, Donald Daniel, and alternate Roseta Williams voted unanimously to recommend council amend the flag ordinance by increasing the flag size limit to 40-by-80 feet, including the federal guidelines for managing the American flag and adding exact engineering requirements for the flag pole.
“What I don’t like is the fact that a commercial business has basically thumbed their nose at our ordinance,” Lange said.
He suggested the board also recommend council still fine Gander RV for not following the flag ordinance since Oct. 15.
“I don’t think we want to be put in the position of changing our ordinance because someone doesn’t like it,” Lange said. “That’s a matter of council and voters and public opinion.”