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They May Wait Until the Cows Come Home to Get This Sign Up

October 30, 1995

Could a dairy store in Danbury, Conn., be guilty of a moooo-ving violation? Or is it merely getting a bum steer from city officials?

Stew Leonard’s dairy mart is a local shopping legend for its offbeat marketing efforts _ store employees have been known to roam the aisles dressed as farm animals. But it has run into some civic opposition to its latest promotional gimmick, a 1,500-pound foam cow’s head meant to be attached to a billboard along busy Interstate 84.

Danbury city officials say that at 18 feet by 16 feet, the big bovine’s head would extend well beyond the billboard to which it would be attached, thus violating local zoning laws and raising numerous safety issues.

``Can you just see the thing rolling down I-84 in a windstorm?″ asks Wayne Skelly, zoning enforcement officer in this city of about 70,000 located about 60 miles from New York City. ``How do you attach something like that?″ he adds.

Good question. The heifer’s head is so big the ears had to be removed before it would fit on the wide-load flatbed truck that transported it from the Newton, Mass., plant of a billboard company to the store. For now, the head is resting in the parking lot of the Danbury market.

``We have this huge cow’s head in front of the store, it’s unbelievable,″ says Stew Leonard Jr., son of the founder. He never intended to take on city hall, he says, he just wanted to advertise. ``All I wanted to do was hang a cow’s head on the side of a billboard,″ he says.

But the issue came to a head last week when city officials reviewed the permit for the billboard, which was to go up on Thursday. Danbury forbids new billboards but allows existing ones to be replaced. Because the cow is bigger than the current Stew Leonard sign, the billboard is being considered new.

Mr. Leonard hasn’t given up. He says he has considered mounting the head without ears, so that it wouldn’t extend past the sign. The store could also try to obtain a zoning variance from the city but would have to prove some sort of hardship to succeed, town officials say.

``You can express hardship in a lot of different ways,″ says Danbury Mayor Gene Eriquez. ``Maybe at this point, the hardship is what to do with a 1,500-pound cow’s head.″

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