Cary, N.C. — The Town of Cary agreed Monday to suspend fines against a man who painted a large message on his Maynard Road home until the courts decide whether he has the right to do so.
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation took up the case of William David Bowden after the town threatened fines, saying the message on his home violates size and color limits set by the town’s sign ordinance.
Bowden hired someone to paint the sign on his home after he claimed a road-widening project left his once-arboreal yard, at 305 SW Maynard Road, void of trees and with a steep slope that funnels rain water into his home.
Town staff first visited Bowden in July to ask him to change the sign.
After months of negotiations that got nowhere, the town reiterated its intent to fine Bowden if he did not remove the sign. Fines, which start at $100 per day, were to start last Friday.
The ACLU filed suit Thursday in federal court , alleging the town’s sign ordinance violates Bowden’s right to free speech and to petition his government.
The suit asks the court to declare the town’s sign ordinance unconstitutional and to issue a temporary restraining order and an injunction against the town.
In a conference call Monday, Cary agreed to suspend any fines pending the outcome of the lawsuit.
“In order to save itself from embarrassment, the town is attempting to silence Mr. Bowden from engaging in core political speech directed at the very governmental authorities who are seeking to suppress that speech,” ACLU-NCLF Cooperating Attorney Mark Sigmon said in a release. “Enforcement of the Town’s sign ordinance under these circumstances is a clear violation of the First Amendment.”
“Given that we’ve been in contact with the ACLU off and on for the last several months, we’re disappointed in the choice they’ve made today but look forward to a court’s review of our community’s standards," Susan Moran, spokeswoman for the Town of Cary, said after the suit was filed.
Assistant Town Manager Mike Bajorek said the town has attempted to negotiate with Bowden but has been unable to reach a satisfactory solution.
"We have gone to him and said, 'We have a design that would help resolve (the drainage issue),'" Bajorek said last week. "He said, 'No. Stay off my property. I want you to buy my house.'"
Bowden said he will never give up, even if it means losing his home.
“If I have to...I will let the mortgage company foreclose on it,” Bowden said.