Monday, December 22, 2008

The City Grinch Crackdown on Christmas Tree Signs.

City crackdown on Xmas tree signs
4:00AM Tuesday Dec 23, 2008
By Alanah May Eriksen

A council officer ordered Daniel O'Donoghue (seated) and Geoff Carr to take their signs down and shift their trees.

A needy church and entrepreneurial students selling Christmas trees are among unwitting victims of an Auckland City Council crackdown on illegal signs.

St Barnabas Church on Mt Eden Rd was threatened with a $20,000 fine if it did not remove a roadside sign and wall-mounted banner advertising Christmas trees for sale.

The trees - which have since sold out - were being sold to raise money for a restoration of the church organ.

Vicar Paul Clarke said a council officer responding to a complaint about the signs approached the church asking for the signs to be removed.

The church then received a letter threatening a $20,000 fine if it did not comply.

"It's pretty pathetic, isn't it?" Mr Clarke said. "It's not hurting anyone. You can hardly breathe and you're charged for it these days."

But a member of the parish, former Mt Eden Mayor Gordon Johns, contacted Auckland's Deputy Mayor, David Hay, about the issue.

A council officer returned to the church the following day saying the church could keep the signs up.

Mr Hay told the Herald: "Gordon Johns contacted me and within 24 hours the problem was sorted. I personally think the trees add to the festivities.

"I'm sure nobody takes exception to St Barnabas selling the trees. It doesn't affect the traffic and it shouldn't have been a problem ... Unfortunately, someone gets their knickers in a twist and complains."

The council has also targeted students trying to make a quick buck selling Christmas trees on city roadsides after irritated residents complained about the trees and associated signs clogging footpaths.

Street-trading in a residential area is prohibited without permission from the council, but sellers say city officers usually turn a blind eye at this time of year.

Auckland University students Daniel O'Donoghue and Geoff Carr were selling trees outside the home of Mr O'Donoghue's mother in St Heliers Bay Rd when a council officer arrived last week and ordered them to move the trees to the front lawn and take their signs down.

"We were just trying to make a bit of holiday money, wanting to pay off the student loan," Mr O'Donoghue said.

"I applied for a couple of jobs but it was pretty hard to get holiday work."

Another student, Kyle Murphy, who was selling trees outside his house in Balmoral Rd, Sandringham, said that as well as being told to remove his trees from the footpath, he had to get rid of tinsel and a candy-cane decoration from his front fence.

Council service requests manager Chris Horan said Auckland City was not cracking down on residential Christmas tree trading, but was simply responding to complaints from the public about signs.

***I snapped the Balmoral Tree for sale just after the Grinch ordered the vendor to take the trees away. When I first saw them, the trees were leaned against his hedge, and were not in the way at all.***

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