I thought the headline, “Disputed Jesus statue stays for now” was going to refer to the Whitefish war memorial/kitchy Jesus statue. It’s fine to be wrong, however. This story winds up being an update about a completely different Jesus statue I’ve written about before so it’s all good. Vietnamese immigrant Tuan Pham took yard decorating to a whole new level when he decided to place a seven foot high Jesus statue in his yard, on a platform that raises it a further 10 feet. While most St. Paul, Minnesota, Christians probably applauded the man for being so obvious in his devotion, the thing was and still is in violation of zoning laws, being placed too close to the edge fo the bluff overlooking the Mississippi river The city is slow to do much about it, though.
Pham bought his bluff home in 2007 and planted a Lady Liberty statue out front. He added two sets of leaping dolphins, a Virgin Mary, a St. Joseph and tropical fish. The Jesus statue, however, has been the subject of the city’s attention since November 2010 when the city received an anonymous complaint about it standing too close to the bluff.
Pham received a letter from the city telling him that the Jesus statue violated the city code that forbids development within 40 feet of the bluff that drops sharply off the back yard.
The Zoning Board denied his appeal as did the City Council, but Pham hasn’t heard from the city since and he’s not eager to move the statue, which sits on a reinforced 10-foot base of concrete and steel.
If he does hear from the city at some point, he’s willing to bring a lawsuit against them. Americans love their lawsuits.
Council Member Dave Thune represents the ward in which Pham lives. Thune contacted the city’s zoning department early last week, but did not hear back before the Thanksgiving holiday.
The city hasn’t given up. “Oh, no, no,” Thune said. “Really, it’s a pretty important zoning issue as well as the bluff preservation.”
Just as Pham isn’t on a property rights crusade, Thune said he isn’t out to chill free speech or religion. “We don’t want to have statues of religious or political figures on the bluffs,” he said.
If they want to sell it as a conservation issue, then they’d better check all the properties along the bluff to see who else they can penalize for breaking zoning laws. Otherwise it does look like they’re picking on him specifically because it’s a Jesus statue.
He can have whatever he wants in his yard, obviously, and I’ll agree that zoning laws can get a bit ridiculous and overly specific. There was a story I’d found out of Florida where a cross that hung on a woman’s garage was 2.5″ too tall according to the rules set there, either by the town itself, or just the neighbourhood she lived in. There weren’t enough details to know for sure. Give an inch and they’ll take a mile, though, right? Isn’t that how that old chestnut goes? Have to be completely anal over the little things before big things go overboard…