Norfolk business forced to cover up sign protesting eminent domain

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WVEC.com

Posted on August 7, 2012 at 7:56 AM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 7 at 4:51 PM

NORFOLK -- A Norfolk business Tuesday covered over a large sign it put up to protest what they call eminent domain abuse by the city government.

The sign, located at Central Radio Company on Hampton Boulevard, is 375 square feet, which the city says is too big. It was also put up without a permit.

The owner, Bob Wilson, says this is an attempt to silence his right to free speech.

Wilson has been fighting to save his business, which is threatened by eminent domain.

Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Agency condemned more than 170 residential, institutional and business buildings in the Hampton Boulevard area near Old Dominion University.   The area, a public-private partnership called "The District," will become a new dormitory for 900 Old Dominion University students, a grocery store, drug store and other businesses.

Wilson has plenty of support. Last month, demonstrators rallied at his business to protest with him.

After months of fighting with the city over the sign, Central Radio Company is throwing in the towel.

"We built it big enough so that it's not a a whisper, it's a shout. We're yelling out to everybody that comes by that we're unhappy with this," said Wilson, "Our protest is to put it out to the general public to let them know what's going on here, how their city and their city leaders are abusing this policy of eminent domain."

City spokeswoman Lori Crouch said, "The City does not take issue with the message on the sign. However, the sign is too large for what is allowed in that area and it was installed without a permit. It is because of these reasons the city issued violation notices and the matter is currently in court."

She also said it's a public safety issue because of concerns the sign could fly off the building.

A judge recently denied a motion to protect the sign from city prosecution during the court proceedings.

Facing potential fines of up to $1,000 a day, Wilson said he had no choice but to comply.

Even though the sign was covered up Tuesday, Wilson says that he will keep fighting for his rights.

When it comes to eminent domain, he says he will go all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

The city was going to go by the site Tuesday afternoon to check the covering, Crouch told WVEC.com.

Wilson  said the court asked the sign be covered while some area properties were visited and the court said the covering was acceptable.

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