Statesville city officials are working to amend local ordinances so a huge U.S. flag can continue to fly over an RV store along Interstate 77 north of Charlotte.
The move comes after weeks of controversy and a wave of national criticism over the town’s decision to fine Camping World & Gander Outdoors $50 a day for flying the 40-foot-by-80-foot flag. It is double the size allowed under the town’s rules.
Fines have so far topped $11,000 for Gander Outdoors CEO Marcus Lemonis, who is also the star of the CNBC’s reality television show “The Profit.”
A Change.org campaign supporting Lemonis and his business has so far reached 272,000 signatures, after initially having a goal of 75,000.
Statesville Mayor Costi Kutteh is responding to the growing criticism by asking the planning department to draft an amendment regulating the size of flags flown near highways, according to a press release from the town.
“If passed, this amendment will permit the flag currently displayed at Gander RV on I-77 to continue flying,” the town said.
A tweet from the town suggested passage is likely, because Kutteh was joined by a majority of the council in requesting the ordinance change.
Changing the ordinance requires two votes, so “the matter should be resolved at the July 15 council meeting,” according to the town.
“In speaking with city council members, I believe this is the direction the majority of council would like to go at this time. Some terrible things have been said about our wonderful town and it hasn’t come from our citizens,” Kutteh said in a release.
“People from all over the country have jumped on this issue and called us names I can’t repeat. When our community’s efforts to conduct business in an orderly, lawful manner begins to hurt our businesses, then it’s time to put a stop to it.”
Town officials say Lemonis never asked for an amendment to the ordinance and “has made no attempt to contact the City.”
Lemonis tweeted that he will be in Statesville on Thursday afternoon to discuss the issue with people concerned about the flag. He didn’t specify if any conversation will involve town leaders.
He also said in a tweet that the amendment proposed by town officials is “missing the point.”
“The state code is clear as to no restriction of size unless it impairs the health, safety or wellness of the people,” Lemonis tweeted. “This isn’t about @CampingWorld or @GanderRV. Amend the code to remove the size restrictions for all businesses not just mine.”
Statesville officials say Gander RV was given a permit to fly a 40-by-25-foot flag on its property in 2018. “But when the flag was raised two months later, it was determined the company was flying a 40 x 80-foot flag, which is prohibited by City ordinance,” the town said.
“After several attempts to have Gander RV replace the flag with the permitted size, the City notified Gander in October, 2018, that the $50-per-day fine would be initiated until the flag was replaced.”
The town also filed a lawsuit, and town officials have not said what would become of the suit if the ordinance is changed.