Michigan Auto Shop's Massive U.S. Flag Runs Afoul of Town Rules, Sparks Controversy

Belle Tire, a company in Michigan, want to put a large flag, like this one, in front of one of its stores

Belle Tire, a company in Michigan, want to put a large flag, like this one, in front of one of its stores  (AP)

It has the distinction of being the biggest American flag in Meridian, Mich. -- and it's illegal.

Belle Tire's 8-by-12 flag, at 96 square feet, is nearly three times larger than what the township allows, and the company would like to upgrade to an even larger, 600-square-foot flag. Town ordinances prohibit flags of more than 35 square feet, such as a 5-by-7 flag.

The auto care company isn't shy about its love of American flags, which it displays at its various locations in Michigan. But the flag at its Meridian location sparked controversy in February when the town issued it a notice of violation, saying that it would be fined $75 a day if the oversize flag continued to fly.

Belle Tire plans to ask a zoning board April 13 to approve a variance for its flag, but company officials have said little publicly about the controversy.

That hasn't stopped local residents and officials from sounding off on the issue.

The ordinance limiting the size of flags was created to address concerns that large flags could be a distraction for drivers or even block the line of sight on streets. Belle Tire is located on Grand River, a major four-lane road that sees 22, 000 cars a day.

Susan McGillicuddy, the township's supervisor, told the Lansing State Journal that she might exercise flexibility in this case, as long as they don't propose a traffic safety hazard. She cited the pole being far enough from the road as to not pose a safety issue.

Some residents trust that the company has good intentions.

“It’s patriotic,” said James Cornish, a host at the Old Chicago Restaurant three blocks from the tire shop. “I don’t see a problem.”

But Mark Kieselbach, the director of community planning and development in the township, underscored that the Belle Tire's proposed 600-square-foot flag display would be unprecedented.

“That’s one gigantic flag,” Kieselbach said, noting that a normal two-car garage is only about 400 square feet.

An employee at Belle Tire's business office confirmed the request for a variance but declined to answer's further questions about the proposal and why the company is interested in such large flags.

“With that flag, it becomes the store where people say, ‘You know, that store with the huge flag,'” Kieselbach said. “That’s a good advertisement.”

Other stores have applied for super-size American flags in the township and been denied. In 2006, for example, Graff Chevrolet Dealership failed to win permission to fly a 300-square-foot flag outside its location in town.

“It’s not to attract customers,” Vicki McMahon, the office manager from Graff Chevrolet, said. “We fly big flags to show our patriotism. We have other ways to attract customers into our stores.”

Even so, Karen McKibben, a representative from The Flag Company, an online flag dealer, said extreme patriotism can come with a hefty price tag. A 600-square-foot American flag -- just about the largest she's ever sold -- is priced at $1, 950. (For those in the market, a 4,000-square-foot flags is available for $7,200.)

“Most of our clients are car dealerships,” she said. “It’s good for attracting business.”