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Deadwood flag size rule upsets businessman

DEADWOOD (AP) -- A business owner in Deadwood is upset about a city rule that classifies American flags as signs and requires special permission for flags larger than 24 square feet.

Hotel and casino owner Mike Gustafson applied in July for a permit to hang a 375-square-foot flag on his building in the western South Dakota city during the annual motorcycle rally in nearby Sturgis. The City Commission approved the request but required that the large flag be removed after the conclusion of the weeklong rally, the Black Hills Pioneer reported.

"The sign ordinance defines signage and what signs are," said Deadwood Building Inspector Keith Umenthum. "Flags are considered signs, but there are exceptions for signs that don't require a permit."

However, Gustafson, who wanted to display the 15-by-25-foot flag for 90 days, needed a permit to hang the flag for a longer period, and city officials denied that request. Planning and zoning commission members cited a part of the ordinance that says American flags shouldn't be used "to call attention to, decorate, mark or distinguish the building on which it is placed." Another part of the sign ordinance also limits flags to 150 square feet.

"At 375 square feet, this is by far, the largest sign in Deadwood," a city report said.

Gustafson said he thinks the city's ordinance is "outdated and unpatriotic" and should be changed.

"It is a desecration of the flag of the United States of America to be classified as a 'sign' by the Deadwood ordinance because it is larger than 4 feet by 6 feet, especially when Deadwood is considered an 'All American City,'" he said.

"We had nothing but praise and positive comments from visitors and Deadwood residents during the few days it was on display," Gustafson said of his large flag.