The co-owner of a Bethesda skate and scooter shop says he’s frustrated by the county’s response to his attempts to go through proper channels so he can re-install a giant skateboard over the entrance to his shop near Veteran’s Park.
“We’re sitting here just trying to keep our head afloat without a sign,” Bethesda Scooters & Boards co-owner Kaare Wieneke said. “Our business is struggling because no one knows we’re here.”
The Woodmont Triangle shop previously installed the 12-foot long blue skateboard above its shop in March, but the owners were later told by Montgomery County’s Department of Permitting Services that they would have to remove the skateboard because the shop didn’t have a permit for it.
At the time, the inspector who delivered the violation notice said the department received a complaint about the sign. The county threatened fines of $500 per day for each day the sign remained up past May 10.
Facing the fines, the shop took the skateboard down. Since then Wieneke has enlisted structural engineer Thomas Kozlowski, who has worked through county permitting issues in the past, to help get the proper permit to re-install the skateboard.
Over six months, Kozlowski sent emails to county staff in an attempt to determine what the shop could do to receive a permit for the sign.
Roger Waterstreet, the county’s department of permitting services employee handling the case, responded sporadically in emails that it’s his understanding that the proposed sign does not conform to county code because it “does not conform to a geometric sign.”
Specifically, Waterstreet cites a section of the county’s code that states “a sign must be a geometric shape. ” In a follow-up email to Kozlowski in December, he provides the section of the county’s code that lists regulations governing rectangular, “V”-shaped and three-dimensional signs.
However, Kozlowski points out that the full text of that section of code referred to by Waterstreet says a sign “must be a geometric shape; a sign shaped to resemble any human or animal form is prohibited.”
Kozlowski said he believes the intent of the line is to prevent signs that look like a human or an animal.
“What is a skateboard if it’s not geometric shapes? It’s lines, it’s circles,” Kozlowski said.
Waterstreet did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday, but in his last email to Kozlowski, he wrote, “I look forward to receiving an application for a sign permit from you.”
Fees to file a formal sign permit application in the county range from $267 to $730, depending on the type of sign.
Given the delays and frustrations, Wieneke says he may give up on the skateboard sign, which he says was enjoyed by the local community when it was up.
“I’m just sick of it,” Wieneke said. “At this point I need to come up with another solution.”
The owners installed a miniature skateboard on the posts that previously held the giant skateboard after they took it down. Credit: Andrew Metcalf