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Board to Advertise Hearings on Sign Ordinance Changes

by ARLnow.com | November 17, 2011 at 10:46 am | 1,933 views | 21 Comments

The Arlington County Board is expected to advertise two public hearings on changes to the county’s sign ordinance on Saturday.

The proposed changes, which have been in the works since the beginning of the year, include:

  • Permitting temporary sidewalk “A-frame” signs
  • Permitting logos on umbrellas within sidewalk cafes
  • Permitting coordinated public parking signs near parking garages

A-frame signs are currently verboten under the county’s sign ordinance — a rule that has led to conflicts between county zoning personnel and local business owners. Under the proposed changes, A-frame signs would be allowed without a permit for “all businesses that provide goods and services to the public,” as long as the sign is no more than 3.5 feet high and as long as a minimum 6-foot clear passageway is maintained on the sidewalk.

Similarly, branded sidewalk cafe umbrellas — currently prohibited under most circumstances — would be allowed without a permit as long as it’s within an approved sidewalk cafe. Wrote county staff: “The proposed amendment would allow up to four square feet of each umbrella… to be used for commercial messages related to the business and/or products sold there, and thus allow outdoor cafes to create their own identity and contribute to neighborhood character.”

The parking sign change would allow a more uniform system of way-finding for parking garages in Arlington. A pilot program in Rosslyn has allowed such signs since 2008. County officials consider the program a success, and are recommending it be extended to the entire county.

“An effective parking way-finding program can reduce congestion by eliminating unnecessary travel by lost motorists,” staff wrote.

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  • CW

    What is happening on Saturday? Is it 1) the hearing, 2) the change to the sign ordinance taking effect, or 3) the county advertising that it will have hearings? Confusing.

    Also, has there been an unofficial suspension of enforcement or something with respect to these rules? Because I’ve seen a huge proliferation of sandwich boards lately.

    • Thes

      Yes, County staff have said publicly that there has been unofficial suspension of enforcement for the time being.

  • Thes

    It is not accurate to say that the proposed ordinance would allow signs “as long as the sign is no more than 3.5 feet high and as long as a minimum 6-foot clear passageway is maintained on the sidewalk.” There are numerous other restrictions being proposed.

    For example with respect to size: (sign area cannot be more than 7 square feet per side) and with respect to placement: (they must be within 2 feet of the building or in-between tree pits. Furthermore, generally, only one sign per business will be allowed, and the sign cannot be out when the business is closed.

    • Arlingtonian

      Thes:

      Contrary to your comment, the proposed ordinance says nothing about tree pits. The proposed ordinance discusses landscape and utility zones. A tree pit is not necessarily landscaping; a court would need to clarify this if the County Board adopts the proposed ordinance.

      Further, your comment does not not address situations where there is landscaping or utility zone on the sidewalks. In such cases, signs can be placed within four feet of the curb or within two feet of the building face.

      If a sidewalk is ten feet wide and lacks landscaping, one business can place a sign nearly four feet from the curb. The business next door can place a sign almost two feet from the building face. The sidewalk in front of each business will have a six foot clear area. However, you won’t be able to walk, cycle or travel in a wheelchair in a straight line unless you are in the middle four feet of the sidewalk.

      It will be even worse if other people are using the sidewalk or if a business places a sign within the six foot clear area (which will certainly happen, even if it is not legal.)

      To fully understand this, read the relevant section of the proposed ordinance, which I have copied below:

      —————————————————————————————–

      Sidewalk signs shall be permitted only on sidewalks where there is an existing minimum six-foot clear walkway (an unobstructed area serving as circulation space for pedestrians). In order to provide adequate clearance for pedestrians and persons with visual and mobility disabilities, such signs shall not be placed within any required clear walkway for the site, and shall be located either entirely within two feet of the building face, or within the landscape and utility zone such that there is at least one foot between the sign and the edge of the curb (on sidewalks where there is no landscaping, sidewalk signs may be placed within four feet of the edge of the curb if such placement maintains the clear walkway required in this subparagraph);

      • Arlingtonian

        A sentence in my comment above states: “Further, your comment does not not address situations where there is landscaping or utility zone on the sidewalks.”

        This sentence contains a typographical error. The sentence should state: “Further, your comment does not not address situations where there is no landscaping or utility zone on the sidewalks”.

        • Thes

          Please see my response to your thread, below, where I correct your omission and reiterate that this article is incorrect to state that the only placement requirement is maintenance of a 6′ clear width.

          Landscape and utility zone. The area of the sidewalk bounded by the edge of the curb and a line parallel to the curb formed by connecting the edge of the STREET TREE PITS OR LANDSCAPE STRIPS farthest from the curb, where landscaping, street trees, utilities, and other elements, such as but not limited to benches, parking meters, bicycle racks, streetlights, garbage cans, signs and bus shelters, are located. (emphasis added)

          You are correct that the staff language does not adequately address the situation in which tree pits do not exist. But it is partially addressed. So the article is incorrect. By exaggerating your claim, you obscure the part of your claim that is valid.

  • Interested in signs

    Cool. Do you have a link where I can review this type of information in the proposed language of the ordinance?

    • Dan

      Just tune in Saturday a.m.

      • Interested in signs

        I have to work my second job on Saturday. I was just asking if Thes could post the link where he obtained all the cool info about the restrictions in the proposed ordinance. Thank you in advance.

        • Thes

          The staff report can be found here. It is viewable as a pdf. It contains all the language.

          Under Virginia law, localities have little room to make changes once they have advertised specific text. Therefore, if you don’t like the text proposed, Saturday will be the time to speak up. In December, the Board may only be able to vote the whole thing up or down, or postpone consideration to January in order to re-advertise.

          • Interested in signs

            Great thanks. My husband runs a sign business so this is helpful.

  • charlie

    as part of the Small Business Initiative only sign ordinance changes related to signs on Umbrellas and sandwich signs will be considered. the rest has been punted to July 2012 with the hope and expectation that it will drown itself.

  • charlie
  • Arlingtonian

    The proposed ordinance will allow A-frame signs anywhere on the sidewalk, as long as a six-foot wide clear area remains in front of the business. One business can place a sign near the middle of the sidewalk, leaving a clear area near the curb. The business next door can place a sign three feet from the curb, leaving a clear area in the middle of the sidewalk.

    Pedestrians and cyclists will slolom as the weave between A-frame signs that adjacent businesses place in on different parts of the sidewalk. If there are ten businesses on a block (such as in Clarendon) there can be ten signs obtstructing different parts of the sidewalk. The clutter will be amazing.

    County staff and local businesses are supporting this mess. No matter what the public wants or says, the County Board will almost certainly adopt it. The only way to stop it is to phone County Board members at their homes to express your objections.

    Chris Zimmerman is the chief proponent on the Board for this proposal. He is also the Chairman of the County Board. If he does not change his views, the Board will adopt the County staff’s recommendations That is the “Arlington Way”, whether you like it or not.

    • Thes

      This is flat wrong. The ArlNow article is wrong. The first sentence of your comment is wrong, even though it quotes the article above, is wrong, because the article is wrong. I hope ArlNow corrects the article.

      • Arlingtonian

        Thes:

        No. You are wrong. Read the reply that I placed below the comment that you made earlier.

        • Thes

          I am not wrong. The article is incorrect to state that the only two restrictions are the 3.5 foot height limit and the 6-foot clear limit.

          In your response, above, you have neglected to look at the new definition for “landscape and utility zone”:

          Landscape and utility zone. The area of the sidewalk bounded by the edge of the curb and a line parallel to the curb formed by connecting the edge of the street tree pits or landscape strips farthest from the curb, where landscaping, street trees, utilities, and other elements, such as but not limited to benches, parking meters, bicycle racks, streetlights, garbage cans, signs and bus shelters, are located.

          It is true that this definition could be tighter. In fact I wish it were tighter. But it is flat wrong to state or imply that signs can go anywhere as long as 6′ clear is left. That’s what a previous staff proposal said, and this one doesn’t.

          The reason the distinction is important is for just the reasons you identify. The ordinance shouldn’t merely rely on the clearwidth limitation. (And now it doesn’t.) It should prevent the slalom in situations where the landscaping is more extensive, as you describe above. This technical issue does need to be resolved, and the language proposed needs to be changed. But we can’t have that discussion effectively if we’re not starting from the correct facts.

          By focusing on your incorrect claim (sadly supported by this incorrect article) that the only placement restriction is the 6′ clear width requirement, you are confusing the issue, and as a result the staff’s imperfect language –intended to ameliorate this, but not fully successful in doing so– may indeed pass. The public deserves better.

        • charlie

          Arlingtonian: no one tells Thes he is wrong. He never is. :)

  • Lou

    Well, it is nice to see that they have achieved the goal of simplifying the sign regulations.

  • Chuck

    Finally! A joint that admits that it can’t make a Philly cheese steak.

  • charles

    So, be disobedient. Run up to boards that you don’t like and scribble on them with a Sharpie laundry marker. A Sharpie can’t be erased.

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