PROSPECT — Two red, white and blue vertical banners that once flew at the entrance of Jim Juliani Motors on Waterbury Road symbolized pride in America to Mike Lanese.
They’re American flags, he says.
To the town, they’re banner advertising flag signs. More specifically, they’re two detached commercial signs that put the business in violation of the town’s zoning regulations because the automotive dealership is allowed only one detached commercial sign, town officials said. Jim Juliani Motors has an existing permanent detached sign. With the two banners, that bumped it to three.
Lanese, 54, of Waterbury who manages the dealership at 69 Waterbury Road, said he doesn’t agree the flags are signs, but he will abide by the town’s cease and desist order. If he didn’t remove them, the business would have faced a $150 fine for each day they stayed.
“It’s the American flag,” said Lanese, whose late father was a World War II veteran who received three Purple Hearts. “It doesn’t have ‘For Sale,’ ‘Buy Here,’ ‘Bad Credit.’ It’s the American flag.”
The business does have little American flags on every car it has outside along Route 69. An abutting property owner also has an American flag flying from a pole, and as part of a recent communitywide project, there are two American flags installed on utility poles by the business.
Those flags aren’t the issue, said William Donovan, the town’s land use inspector and zoning enforcement official. He said the three detached commercial signs are. The two banners have since been removed, dropping the number to one.
Jim Juliani Motors is in a business zone, where one detached sign is permitted per lot and or commercial complex along any front property line, according to the zoning regulations. A sign is defined in part as any illustration, display banner, pennant, flag or other device, however made, displayed or supported intended for the purpose of advertisement, identification or publicity.
On Friday morning at the business, Lanese showed off the banners he had removed. He said he bought them from Auto Ad Sales of Milford. The “Sky Swooper Flags,” according to Auto Ad Sales’ website, are 15 feet tall, can be seen from a mile away and are “a great way to advertise.”
While resembling a U.S. flag, the banners do not have 50 stars and are not rectangular but are curved at the top. Lanese had placed one on each side of the front parking lot.
Donovan says they are outdoor advertising banners, not American flags.
The banners came to Donovan’s notice earlier this year.
A letter was issued in late February to Robert Persechino, a manager, notifying him of the sign violation and for the banners and small flags to be removed. A month later, a cease and desist order was issued to owner Jim Juliani, asking for only the banners to be removed or face a daily $150 fine.
The banners were removed. On July 2, they reappeared.
Lanese said he put them up for the holiday, but took them down July 10. On that same day, a third letter arrived for Juliani, with a municipal citation of $150, and in it, Donovan stated that if the banners were removed, the citation would be voided.
The citation was voided, and a fine never had to paid, he said.
Donovan said while the flag signs are a violation of the zoning regulations, it wouldn’t be an issue if Lanese erected two “actual” American flags on each side of the parking lot.
Juliani, who owns the business in Prospect and the main facility on Homer Street in Waterbury, said Friday that Lanese wasn’t authorized to put up the flags, or to use his name.
“Mike used his authority in this matter without my authorization,” Juliani said. “In no way, shape or form, do I have any problem with the zoning regulations or the need to take down the two banners.”
Lanese said his attorney told him that by law, the town can’t force him to take down the flag.
He said he believes the town is picking on him. Lanese mentioned the town’s largest age-restricted development off Scott Road, which has two vertical banners with its name on them outside its entrance.
Donovan said Toll Bros. of Pennsylvania, which is developing The Regency at Prospect, has permission for those under its special permit approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Lanese, who has 35 years of automotive experience, said at his previous businesses in Waterbury, he was known for his flags. He put flags on everything to show his pride.
After this incident, though, he plans to leave Prospect by September, he said, and will go consult for an automotive business owner in Waterbury.