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Posted at 12:36 PM ET, 12/ 2/2010

Lawsuit over Arlington dog mural

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Editors

A Shirlington dog groomer filed a federal lawsuit (PDF) Thursday accusing the Arlington County zoning board of violating her freedom of speech by ordering her to alter whimsical cartoon mural of dogs, bones and paw prints on the back wall of her business.

Kim Houghton, owner of Wag More Dogs, said she paid a local artist $4,000 to paint the 60-foot by 16-foot mural, which faces a dog park behind her shop at 2606 S. Oxford Street.


The mural. (Courtesy Photo)

Houghton said the board told her to cover the mural at her own expense, face fines or closure, or make the mural a government sign by adding "Welcome to Shirlington Park's Community Canine Area" in four-foot-high letters.

John Kramer, spokesman for the Arlington-based Institute for Justice, a libertarian group, said it took the case to "strike a blow for government-harassed entrepreneurs nationwide."

"Arlington County is trying to make Kim choose between her right to speak and her right to earn an honest living," Kramer added.

Arlington officials said the mural is a sign for Houghton's business, not art. Zoning rules in the neighborhood limit business-related signs to 60 square feet.

Arlington spokeswoman Mary Curtius said the county has not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it, but noted that Houghton has not been served with a notice of violation. "We have to enforce our sign ordinance fairly," county spokesman Mary Curtius said. "All we can say is, we've been working very hard to not get into an adversarial position here," she said.

Houghton has covered the mural with a tarp, but charges in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia that the county's definition of a sign any "design ... used to direct, identify, or inform the public" is too vague.

By Spencer S. Hsu  | December 2, 2010; 12:36 PM ET
Categories:  Animal Stories, Arlington, From the Courthouse, Spencer S. Hsu  
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Comments

Saying that adding some words to make it a government sign pretty much torpedoes their case with the average person.

Posted by: blasmaic | December 2, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps if her sign had tried to pass a school bus she would have been acquitted.

Posted by: bronxace | December 2, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps if her sign had tried to pass a school bus she would have been acquitted.

Posted by: bronxace | December 2, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Arlington County, how about removing that gigantic stick from your-know-where? It's an adorable mural and it isn't hurting anyone. Geez, louise, why don't you look after your county residents who are homeless, jobless, and in need, instead of bothering this productive, taxpaying member of society?

Posted by: 7900rmc | December 2, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

I agree with 7900rmc. The mural has to be an improvement to the neighborhood and has been done in good taste as far as I can tell from the picture. Surely government has better things to do and more important activities to cover. Also, it looks like art to me.

Posted by: mbrumble | December 2, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

This is what happens when elected officials have nothing to do with their time.

Posted by: ged0386 | December 2, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Looks like art to me. Bureaucrats get back in your offices.

Posted by: jckdoors | December 2, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

"Perhaps if her sign had tried to pass a school bus she would have been acquitted."

ROFLMAO!

Good old Arlington County. If you are putting up hideous high rise condo units you can do what you want, otherwise, watch out.

From the photo in the article I did not see anything referencing a business so how does the council construe this as a sign?

""We have to enforce our sign ordinance fairly,"

Too bad they don't enforce all ordinance's fairly, but I guess all of the illegals help Tejeda get re-elected.

Posted by: BEEPEE | December 2, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

"Perhaps if her sign had tried to pass a school bus she would have been acquitted."

ROFLMAO!

Good old Arlington County. If you are putting up hideous high rise condo units you can do what you want, otherwise, watch out.

From the photo in the article I did not see anything referencing a business so how does the council construe this as a sign?

""We have to enforce our sign ordinance fairly,"

Too bad they don't enforce all ordinance's fairly, but I guess all of the illegals help Tejeda get re-elected.

Posted by: BEEPEE | December 2, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

It is a cute sign.

I'm so glad I left the People's Republic of Arlington. The liberal monsters got what they wanted - a mini-San Francisco.

So deal with the Board's nonsense or move. They will not get voted out with all the far left nuts in Arlington.

Posted by: asdf9876 | December 2, 2010 7:28 PM | Report abuse

She should remove it or put Welcome to Shirlington Park's Community Canine Area. There are other businesses in the neighborhood that are pet care related.
the park clearly drive a ton of traffic to the businesses in the block but this sign is specific, just for hers. It's not fair with the other businesses even the one across the street. It is a full display of the wag more dogs and it is bringing tons of cash to her register. During a public hearing I don't think other businesses owners could mind because it is an industrial area, full of mechanic shops and don't care about the noise but if you look on details this is about cash flow, she is getting it but also are shutting down the other entrepreneurs, i think having the same right as any other pet care providers it is fair enough. No one is trying to shut down her business, she has a right to earn an honest living but we cannot monopolize a whole neighborhood for one person. Art it is more the graffiti across the street, neutral and non related to grooming or dogs. She shouldn't be risking her business , she should try to follow what zoning and planning says. I gotta say it is a very thoughful marketing. there has to be an arbitrary decision from the board, it should. Beautifying could have been if she could have painted the whole mural from entrance to entrance, the whole half a mile. another thing i think she got ripped off, how is someone going to spend $4000 in a little bit of paint. i think playing the victim role is cheap, she should admit it is advertising and comply with the rules, be fair.

Posted by: Pirry | December 2, 2010 9:21 PM | Report abuse

I don't get it? Does the mural have the name of her business on it at all? If not, how is it advertising her business? However, thanks to this article, I have found a new doggie daycare! The mural is adorable and kinda already screams DOG PARK without obnoxiously advertising Arlington County. They should put up their own sign.

Posted by: pfluff | December 2, 2010 11:34 PM | Report abuse

People should not really blame Arlington County, this is an initiative of the snobs in Shirlington and their desire to try and control every aspect of life within walking distance of their community. This is also why no hotel will save the businesses in Shirlington as they think. People don't go to Shirlington any more because of the attitude and restrictive nature of the community. If there is one community I would never live in it's Shirlington. There is only one community that I do not patronize resturants, it's Shirlington, which is a shame because the Signature Theater is an asset and I had gone to the Carlisle for 20 years before stopping.

Posted by: ffordjr1 | December 3, 2010 12:21 AM | Report abuse

"There are other businesses in the neighborhood that are pet care related.
the park clearly drive a ton of traffic to the businesses in the block but this sign is specific"

How is it specific to her business, her business name is not even on the mural.

If I were to approach the mural from the view shown in the photo I would not even know there was a dog related business on the other side.

In fact, I would have probably figured the county did it, since it's behind a county dog park.

"this is about cash flow, she is getting it but also are shutting down the other entrepreneurs"

How is a non-descript mural shutting down
other entrepreneurs?

"we cannot monopolize a whole neighborhood for one person."

Wonder if you will be saying that when the Arlington Council starts decreeing what color you can paint your home.

"there has to be an arbitrary decision from the board, it should..."

I'm going to assume that you meant If there has to be an arbitrary decision. More bull, the board should never be making arbitrary decisions. Another problem w/ Arlington, the Board thinks they are despots.

"i think playing the victim role is cheap"

She isn't playing the victim, she is the victim.

My guess is that either some other nearby business is playing the victim, dropped a couple bucks in one of the Board members campaign bucket, and got an "investigation", or some of the local Arlington busy bodies w/ too much time on their hands doesn't like the mural and complained.

Posted by: BEEPEE | December 3, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Put me in that jury and I'llrule against the County and add treble damages just to teach it a point. Put me in the Arlington County Council and heads will be rolling into the wastebin of unemployment over this waste of taxpayer time/money. Put me in Shirlington and this business just earned another client.

Posted by: Javi1082 | December 3, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

I love this mural and fully back the owner. For those of us that live in this area, we know the blight of countless auto repair shops, junky streets, a circus of storage places, a concrete plant -- all within a mile -- a cheerful mural, which promotes no one specific business, but brings smiles to neighbors, is a welcome addition to my back yard. Come On Man, give her a break!

Posted by: casswall1 | December 3, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

I say sock it to 'em. The Arlington County board is a disgrace, but this sounds about right up their alley. It has nothing to do with fairness, it's all about the power to tell other people what to do.

Posted by: Nixonin08 | December 3, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Go, Kim go!

Arlington's actions here are typical of the County government -- inflexible attitudes and harrassment of small business, persistent meddling, and misplaced priorities.

Here's a business that tries to provide a service AND do something nice for the community. County staff arrogantly demands that she re-paint her mural to fit the personal whims of some paper-pusher, regardless of cost, and then orders her to put up an ugly blue tarp.

And the tone-deaf County Board leaps to the defense of the inflexible official, rather than listening to reasonable requests from a tax-paying, service-providing constituent.

Arlington has once again become a national laughingstock. It's not unlike the bizarre effort to obstruct federal immigration enforcement, and the idiotic lawsuit that HOT lanes are "racist".

Let's hope the court comes down hard against Arlington. And it's time for Arlington voters to wake up and put some independent voices in County government.

Posted by: jrmil | December 3, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Another great example of government trying to create work for itself to stay relevent.

Does Arlington County seriously have nothing better to do with their time?

Posted by: reiflame1 | December 3, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I can't see in the photo where she is specifically showing the name of her business. It looks great to me.

Lots of Shirlington are very junky-looking, and they are complaining about THIS? I used to go to the movie theatre there, but it's just too congested to go there now.

Posted by: swissmiss150 | December 3, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

the mural does violate the law, but the board should give it an exemption because it does seem to add to the neighborhood and it doesn't seem like any residents object.

Posted by: MarilynManson | December 3, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

"She should remove it or put Welcome to Shirlington Park's Community Canine Area. There are other businesses in the neighborhood that are pet care related.
the park clearly drive a ton of traffic to the businesses in the block but this sign is specific, just for hers. It's not fair with the other businesses even the one across the street. It is a full display of the wag more dogs and it is bringing tons of cash to her register. During a public hearing I don't think other businesses owners could mind because it is an industrial area, full of mechanic shops and don't care about the noise but if you look on details this is about cash flow, she is getting it but also are shutting down the other entrepreneurs, i think having the same right as any other pet care providers it is fair enough. No one is trying to shut down her business, she has a right to earn an honest living but we cannot monopolize a whole neighborhood for one person. Art it is more the graffiti across the street, neutral and non related to grooming or dogs. She shouldn't be risking her business , she should try to follow what zoning and planning says. I gotta say it is a very thoughful marketing. there has to be an arbitrary decision from the board, it should. Beautifying could have been if she could have painted the whole mural from entrance to entrance, the whole half a mile. another thing i think she got ripped off, how is someone going to spend $4000 in a little bit of paint. i think playing the victim role is cheap, she should admit it is advertising and comply with the rules, be fair."

Why do businesses choose a particular location? More foot traffic? Easier accessibility? Being seen? Ultimately they believe that location to be the best spot to drive the most business. I don't know all the ins and outs of when the business turned up there or when the dog park came about, but this lady is in a prime location. Good for her. Just because other "entrepreneurs" weren't smart enough to realize this isn't this lady's fault. The mural adds something positive to the community as I would assume a lot of folks in the area are pet owners. Someone created a stink, probably a rival business owner like you said, but competition is competition; sometimes people are smarter or in sports more athletic. Don't shut this lady down or fine her because her location is better than the other business owner and she added panache to her business with a mural; that she paid for. Just because she's a smart business owner doesn't mean we have to create rules to bring her down. If you can't figure out a way to drive more people to your business, maybe you should try something else, or hire someone who knows what they're doing. Don't cry about your failed business to the city and hope they shut down all the other competition in the area.

Take the tarp down lady, keep doing what you do, because it must be working.

Posted by: smfoster3 | December 3, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Off topic but i feel like i'll reach the target audience...

Can you people who own dogs in arlington at least not let your animmals defecate and urinate on every apartment buildings grass? Even if you "clean it up" do you get all the residue? What about the urine?

It's just very inconsiderate that day in and day out I walk outside in my apartment grass, pick up my paper and have to deal with the excrement and excrement residue of animals that do not live in the building. Do you think because it is an apartment building that gives you free reign to pee and crap in every grass space in the county that is not owned by an indiviudal owner.

Basically, most animal owners in arlington do a "piss poor" job of taking care of their animals without infringing on others.

yeah, i used to own animals and I'm an animal lover. It's inconsiderate people that I have a problem with...

Posted by: citizenp77 | December 3, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

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