ACLU defends sign of irate Cary homeowner

Staff WriterAugust 5, 2009 

The ACLU told the town of Cary on Tuesday that David Bowden's right to free speech would be violated if the town used a sign ordinance to get him to remove a spray-painted complaint from the siding on his home.

Bowden, frustrated over a water-drainage problem he blames on a city road-widening project, hired a painter to write in florescent orange on his home's exterior, "Screwed by the Town of Cary."

In response, a town official told him Monday that he could be fined up to $500 a day for violating the sign ordinance.

Katherine Lewis Parker, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, sent a letter Tuesday afternoon to Cary Town Attorney Christine B. Simpson outlining the ACLU's position on the ordinance. In the letter, Parker says several provisions of the ordinance violate the First Amendment of the Constitution.

For example, the letter says, the ordinance discriminates on the basis of a sign's message by making exceptions for such things as noncommercial holiday decorations displayed between Nov. 15 and Jan. 15. It also regulates by size and shape, which is only allowed, the letter says, if the rules are tailored so they don't infringe on the exercise of free speech.

Susan Moran, Cary's public information officer, said the legal department could not immediately comment on the letter but said she looked forward to reviewing it.

Bowden was aware the ACLU planned to write the letter, and he said he appreciated the support.

When Bowden bought his house on Southwest Maynard Road in 1992, it had problems with runoff water. He had the foundation waterproofed. Later, he said, the problems returned after a road resurfacing channeled water onto his property.

Then last year, the town finished a project adding two lanes to Southwest Maynard that took several feet of Bowden's front yard and a number of trees. The new road is several feet above the old one, leaving Bowden's house below grade. Water now stands in his home's crawlspace after a rain, he said.

The town paid Bowden for the construction easement across his front yard and built a retaining wall and a new driveway for him. Town officials have offered to install a drain across the driveway and channel water away from the house, but Bowden has said no.

Bowden said he wants the town to buy the house at its tax value plus $80,000.

If it doesn't, he said Tuesday, "I guess I'll have to sue them."

martha.quillin@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8989

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