Chicken on the Roof? Not anymore.
The large, inflatable chicken that gives Joppa's The Chicken on the Roof Grill its name was found to have run "a-fowl" of county law, Harford County Councilman Dion Guthrie said Tuesday.
Guthrie said the county forced the restaurant to remove the chicken after someone filed a complaint.
The inflatable chicken – which appears to have become something of a landmark from land and the air – has been down for about a week, although the restaurant continues to do business at its location at the intersection of Routes 40 and 152 (Magnolia Road).
Paul Janowiak, of Baltimore County, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Patty, vows they will fight the county to bring back the chicken. They purchased the property in late 2012 after the previous owner closed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
The Janowiaks began operating the restaurant in January 2013. Janowiak said the Chicken on the Roof appealed to them because of the theme of the restaurant and its proximity to I-95.
He noted the inflatable chicken had been on the roof when he and his wife purchased the property. He said they have received a letter from Aberdeen Proving Ground officials, who told them military pilots used the chicken as a landmark when flying near the Army post.
"Little kids love the chicken," he said. "People from out of state come and take pictures of the chicken; it's a landmark."
All large inflatables on the side of the road are technically violations of signage laws, which also prohibit signs along state or county roads, Harford County Council attorney Melissa Lambert said after Tuesday's council meeting.
Their removal, however, can only be forced by the county if someone files a complaint, Lambert said.
Guthrie, who represents Joppa, said the chicken fell under this guideline even though it is on a roof, not the roadside.
Harford Planning & Zoning Director Pete Gutwald said Thursday that "there were a number of sign violations on that property."
He declined to provide further details because the county is in the midst of enforcement proceedings.
"We informed them that they were in violation of the law," Gutwald said.
County spokeswoman Sherrie Johnson said an ongoing enforcement case is open for the Chicken on the Roof.
"There are multiple violations of the Sign Code at that location, and extend beyond just the large inflatable chicken on the roof," Johnson said via email Wednesday. "The enforcement was the result of a complaint, and Planning and Zoning's standard procedures for dealing with such cases is being followed."
Gutwald said the zoning code includes a number of limits on the size and number of signs a business can post, and the limits vary depending on the characteristics of the property.
He said the restaurant owners can, however, apply for a variance to keep their inflatable. The variance must be approved through the county's Board of Appeals process, and the applicants must deal with the financial costs, including legal fees.
Law's logic questioned
During Tuesday's county council meeting, Guthrie questioned the logic of a law that is enforceable only when someone complains, noting that a competing business owner could complain about a restaurant like Chicken on the Roof just to drum up business for their own establishment.
Guthrie said the Joppa chicken was visible from a great distance and attracted a lot of people to the business.
He pointed out that many other businesses put up inflatables, among them large car dealerships like Jones Junction in Fallston and Thompson Automotive in Edgewood, which is less than a mile east on Route 40 from Chicken on the Roof.
Franchises like Royal Farms and Sonic Drive-in also have temporarily put up large inflatables for their grand openings, he said.
"The problem with the law is, they are all complaint-driven," Guthrie said, adding he had met with county zoning officials, Council President Billy Boniface and the restaurant owners in recent months to try to address the problem.
Guthrie, who seemed to feel the owners would give up and leave, said the restaurant "was a very good place that I went to a lot" and noted the zoning variance process is expensive.
Paul Janowiak said he has already hired an attorney, and estimated it could cost $10,000 to $15,000 to go through the zoning appeal process. He accused the county of acting like a "bully" to small business owners.
"It's almost like a scam, it really is," he said. "Everybody gets rich off you trying to put a sign up on your property."
Janowiak said he and his wife have four employees and their work force grows to eight during the summer.
"I am not going down without a fight on this," he said.