A mundane update to a long-standing Arlington ordinance went viral on the internet yesterday when news organizations started erroneously implying that the county was trying to crack down on public cursing.
As ARLnow.com previously reported, the County Board on Saturday considered — and approved — an update to its public drunkenness and profanity ordinance.
The update, meant to bring Arlington in line with a Virginia law that’s on the books throughout the Commonwealth, replaced “drunkenness” with “intoxication” so that police could charge someone who’s under the influence of drugs, rather than just alcohol. It also made the crime a Class 4 misdemeanor, upping the maximum fine for the first and second offense from $100 to $250, but reducing the maximum fine for each subsequent offense to $250 from $500.
Despite the innocuous intent, news outlets both local and national saw something nefarious in the cursing portion of the law, which has been on the books for years. Among the headlines:
- “Arlington Cracks Down on Salty Language” — Washingtonian
- “Arlington raises the penalty for potty mouths” — WTOP
- “Cursing in Arlington could cost you $250″ — Washington Post
- “Cursing in Public Becomes Fineable Offense in Arlington County” — WNEW 99.1
- “There’s a racial history behind these types of laws” — The Atlantic CityLab
- “Having a potty mouth will cost you a pretty penny in Arlington, Va.” — New York Daily News
- “Arlington, Virginia, Seems to Think F-Bombs Are Actual Weapons” — Reason.com
- “Arlington, Virginia Has a New Law Against Swearing” — Break.com
How prevalent are the citations for public cursing? Of the 664 citations issued under Arlington’s public cursing and drunkenness ordinance in 2014, four — or 0.6 percent — were for “curse and abuse.”
Arlington County Police Department spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said that in the rare instance an officer actually does issue a curse and abuse citation, it’s usually as a result of calls from residents about people cussing in front of children.
“It’s not like police are out there looking for people using profane language,” Sternbeck said. “It’s calls from members of the public who are concerned about subjects acting disorderly.”
Sternbeck was able to list the circumstances of three of the four cursing citations issued in 2014.
- A public argument between two parties in front of Ballston Common Mall
- A group of men cursing in Tyrol Hill Park in front of children, who then cursed at officers after being asked to stop
- A driver who repeatedly cursed at a police officer after receiving several traffic violations
“Police are not actively seeking out people using profane language,” Sternbeck repeated. “[The ordinance] was just updated to be in line with the state code.”
The Arlington County Board approved an updated noise ordinance last month, amid concern from businesses that it’s too strict and complaints from residents that it’s not strict enough.
A new video from Arlington County (above) reviews why the noise ordinance was updated and what it means for Arlington residents and businesses.
As noted in the video, noise complaints in Arlington should be directed to county code enforcement (703-228-3232) during business hours and to the police non-emergency line (703-558-2222) after hours.
Effective immediately, restaurant managers will be liable for the noise of their patrons if it can be heard in a residence 100 feet or more away from midnight to 9:00 a.m in mixed-use areas, which the county outlines in maps of areas like Clarendon, Ballston, Pentagon City and Columbia Pike.
Anywhere in the county, from 2:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. anyone who can be heard “yelling, wailing, shouting or screaming” can receive a ticket for $100 or more.
“It’s our goal to always do the best we can to balance and be respectful of the quality of life to everyone that’s here,” County Board Chairman Jay Fisette said during the Board’s almost five-hour discussion of the ordinance at its Saturday meeting. “This is another set of tools, in my mind, that helps us to address the not widespread — but they do exist — impacts of noise.”
Residents of condominiums in Ballston and other of Arlington’s urban neighborhoods were calling for more restrictive rules, including setting quiet hours beginning at 11:00 p.m. nightly and from noon to 6:00 p.m. on Sundays. A committee of residents from the Alta Vista and Berkeley Condominiums in Ballston — both within steps of A-Town Bar & Grill — unsuccessfully proposed those stricter rules to the Board.
“[Responsible businesses] have nothing to fear from a strong noise control ordinance,” said Lee Austin, a member of the ad hoc condo committee. “Nor do we want to prevent young people from having a good time. But is it too much to ask they be respectful of residents in the neighborhood late at night and on Sunday afternoon? What we solicit protection from is the crowd noise that comes from irresponsible establishments that serve too much alcohol to too many people too long after they’ve had too much to drink.”
Clarendon and Courthouse residents sent a flurry of emails last week requesting similar restrictions, with former president of the Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association Chris Keever telling the County Board that the ordinance appears “to have been drafted directly by bar owners who are not even trying to pretend they care about being good neighbors.”
Whitlow’s on Wilson owner Greg Cahill was the first of 17 speakers who addressed the Board about the ordinance on Saturday. He did not advocate for a specific enforcement time, but instead implored the Board to consider the business community as well as the residents when adopting the new regulations.
“We’re a little concerned it could be detrimental to our business,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t get busy until 11 or 12 at night. It could affect our business. It’s going to be hard for us to be responsible for actions people [take] when they’re waiting to get into our bar and restaurant.”
In addition to provisions dealing with mixed-use districts, the new ordinance makes it illegal for anybody or any group of people “to engage during the nighttime in yelling, wailing, shouting or screaming” in a residential neighborhood, if the noise can be heard within 20 feet inside an adjacent home or within 50 feet across a road or property boundary.
The ordinance adopted was revised from the version discussed last month that rankled Arlington’s private swim clubs. Those clubs are now exempted from the residential noise ordinance, provided that their meets that take place between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.
The county’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development’s Code Enforcement personnel will pair with the Arlington County Police Department in enforcing the new rules. The new ordinance was written after a 2009 Virginia Supreme Court decision changed the way localities could enforce noise violations. The ordinance now establishes “Objective, quantifiable and defined measurement standards,” according to Arlington County’s press release.
Fisette called the ordinance a “work in progress” and said county staff should bring back any recommended changes at the ordinance’s one-year review. Fisette also made several references to “one establishment in Ballston” that “continues to cause problems for residents,” and said the Board will address that restaurant — understood to be A-Town — when its use permit comes before the Board for review.
The email listserv of the Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association (CCCA) erupted today in protest over changes to Arlington’s noise ordinance, which the County Board is scheduled to vote on tomorrow (Saturday).
The changes are needed in order to allow police to objectively enforce the noise ordinance; the current ordinance contains subjective enforcement provisions that were struck down by the state Supreme Court. The ordinance attempts to address what county officials say are the top four noise-related complaints in Arlington: loud parties or gatherings, construction noise, animal noises and live entertainment venues.
Business advocates have said that an overly-restrictive noise ordinance could chase away younger residents and discourage local economic development. The new ordinance, county staff says, attempts to find a balance between resident concerns and business needs.
CCCA leaders, however, say that the provisions don’t adequately protect residents in the county’s urban corridors — so-called “mixed use districts” — against noise from parties and outdoor restaurant patios. While for residential neighborhoods the ordinance outlaws “yelling, wailing, shouting or screaming” that’s audible anywhere within 50 feet of the noise source after 9:00 p.m. (10:00 p.m. on weekends), for mixed use districts the noise must be audible indoors, from 100 feet away, after midnight.
“Clarendon is a vibrant mixed use and walkable community and as a neighborhood we generally expect a certain amount of noise related to the restaurants and traffic after those hours,” CCCA President Adam Thocher told ARLnow.com. “However the idea that continued smart growth of our neighborhood is dependent on little to no protection from noise 24/7 is incredible… The CCCA regularly receives feedback on how increasingly loud the outdoor patio space at neighboring restaurants is becoming.”
Even so, Thocher said he was particularly concerned about noise from “keg parties,” which are subject to the same standards as restaurants.
“The idea that the noise from a neighbor’s raucous parties are held to the same noise standards as the restaurant patio is unacceptable even in a mixed use area,” he said.
A former CCCA president, Chris Keever, also weighed in on the issue today, writing the County Board a letter that accused the county of appeasing restaurant owners at the expense of residents of Arlington’s Metro corridors.
“This proposal would leave an overwhelming number of residents of this neighborhood with zero recourse to enforce quiet enjoyment of their own properties,” Keever wrote. “It appears to me to have been drafted directly by bar owners who are not even trying to pretend they care about being good neighbors. It is the right of business owners to make a profit, but not for them to make outrageous profit at the expense of the majority. This is Arlington, not Wall Street.”
The full letters from Thocher and Keever, after the jump.
The Arlington County Board will review the draft noise ordinance at its March meeting.
Among the updates to the ordinance are prohibiting anyone from playing music or TVs loud enough to be heard by a neighbor as close as 20 feet away in an apartment building or 50 feet away across a property line. From the draft:
“It shall be unlawful for any person to use, operate, or play, or to permit the use, operation or playing of, any radio, television, phonograph, record, compact disc or tape player, drum, musical instrument, loudspeaker, sound amplifier or similar device or machine which produces, reproduces or amplifies sound in such a manner as to
create a noise disturbancebe heard within any nearbydwelling unit, house or apartment of another person at least 20 feet from the source of the sound, or at least 50 feet from the source of the sound and either across any real property boundary or at the curb or on the edge of the pavement at any built street.”
The minimum penalty for a noise disturbance violation is proposed to increase from $25 to $100, with a maximum fine of $2,500 and up to 30 days in jail. According to the ordinance, each calendar day a violation is reported or ongoing is a separate offense. All ordinance violations require a warning before a citation can be issued, according to Arlington County Code Enforcement Section Chief Gary Greene.
“Our thinking here is that if you have your TV or stereo or amplifying device so loud that it can be heard a whole room away, clearly and audibly, that would be a disturbance enough for another person that it would be a violation,” Greene said in an email.
The new ordinance was updated partially to allow some violations to be enforced without needing sound-measuring devices — presumably the reason the words “create a noise disturbance” were edited from the above provision. The draft ordinance also forbids motorized lawnmowers and leaf blowers be used after dark and prohibits “yelling, wailing, shouting, or screaming above the level of conversation” in a residential district.
Planning staff said the updated ordinance was written after a yearlong community outreach process. One of the key points to come from the process was regulations on animal noise. In the new draft, a noise ordinance violation occurs when a neighbor hears an animal at least once a minute for 10 consecutive minutes.
All county facilities, employees and contractors with the county, including trash, recycling and leaf collectors, are exempted completely from the proposed ordinance.
Arlington’s food trucks may have an easier time adhering to the law if the County Board adopts changes to an ordinance this weekend. The parking issues that have been plaguing food truck vendors and resulted in legal battles in recent months will come up at Saturday’s board meeting.
Proposed ordinance changes include extending the amount of time food trucks can park in one space from one hour to two hours. Currently, food trucks must move after one hour, but the ordinance wording is vague and doesn’t specify how far the vehicle must move, causing problems with enforcement. That’s another issue board members will examine on Saturday.
Food truck vendors have argued that the 60 minute rule hurts business because they were often forced to move in the middle of a lunch rush, or else face a citation. County staff appears to agree, based on the following excerpt from the staff report:
This time limitation is challenging for vendors and customers when typical lunch hours are between 12:00 noon and 2:00 p.m. A vendor is not able to adequately serve customers and patrons are unable to purchase lunch if their hours don’t correspond. Further, the overwhelming majority (approximately 90 percent) of parking meters within the Metro Station Areas are for at least two (2) hours.
Under the proposed ordinance amendments, the two hour limit would only cover time when vendors are actively selling to customers, not food prep time or clean up time. After a vendor’s time expires, sales would be required to stop and the vehicle would need to be moved to another marked parking space. If the parking area does not have metered spaces, the vehicle would need to be moved at least 25 feet.
Last month, a representative for the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington told ARLnow.com that the organization supports the county’s proposed ordinance changes.
Advisory Lifted for Local Waterways — A warning from Arlington County to stay out of Arlington Branch, Lower Long Branch and Four Mile Run has been lifted. The advisory was issued on April 9 after a sewage release near Columbia Pike. “The precaution was issued to allow time for the effect of the release to be diminished by natural flushing of the streams,” the county said. [Arlington County]
Husband of Track Coach Caught Boston Chaos on Camera — John Walls, the husband of Bishop O’Connell cross country and track coach Cindy Walls, captured the chaos of the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings on video. Walls was waiting for Cindy and his daughter Katie to cross the finish line when one of the bombs exploded across the street from where he was seated. He was shaken but uninjured. [WJLA]
Burned-Down House Cited for Code Violations — The Hall’s Hill house that was destroyed by fire yesterday has been cited several times in the past for building code violations. Officials are now investigating whether property owner Paul Chretien was in violation of the code by allowing more than four unrelated people to live in the house. [Washington Post]
Police Seek Theft Suspect — The Arlington County Police Department is asking for the public’s help in locating a 21-year-old man who stole an iPhone. “Police believe that the suspect has also been involved in several other crimes,” according to a press release. [Arlington County]
Under the current ordinance, known as Chapter 30, food trucks are only allowed to remain parked for up to one hour. After that, they must move — but the current ordinance is vague and doesn’t specifically say how far they must move. Also, the ordinance contains contradictory language that can be interpreted as suggesting there is no time limit.
Food truck owners argue that the 60 minute limit hurts their business, as it can force them to shut down and move in the midst of the breakfast or lunch rush, even when customers are lined up. Since the trucks frequent busy Rosslyn, Ballston and Crystal City, that often means spending valuable sales time searching for a new parking space.
Food truck owners, fed up with getting ticketed for loitering when they refused to move, recently started mounting legal challenges against the ordinance, attacking the vague language. Last month they succeeded in getting prosecutors to drop loitering charges against one truck that was ticketed after police said it didn’t move “far enough.”
At the time, county officials acknowledged that the ordinance caused challenges for food vendors.
“We realize that the 60-minute time limit is challenging for vendors and for customers, and we are working to change it,” Arlington County spokeswoman Mary Curtius told ARLnow.com.
True to that promise, county staff is now proposing that the food truck parking limit be raised to “the lesser of two (2) hours or the lawful time limit prescribed for the respective parking meter zone.” After that, the a food truck must only move to another marked parking space or 25 feet in the absence of marked spaces.
The County Board is set to vote to advertise a hearing on the proposed ordinance change on Saturday. After the hearing, to be held on April 20, the Board would then vote on whether to actually change the ordinance.
The one hour street vending limit was set in 2008, after the County Board voted to raise the limit from 5 minutes. From the county staff report:
Since those changes in 2008, there has been continued growth in vendors — mobile food trucks, carts and tables have increased in populated areas of Arlington. Social media has assisted with marketing for vendors, and customers have flocked to them. Today, Arlington has approximately 100 licensed mobile food vendors. The increased popularity of the mobile food vendors has raised questions about the regulations, including the amount of time permitted for vending, appropriate locations for vending, and the overall enforcement of Chapter 30.
Chapter 30’s current language has made it difficult for vendors, does not accommodate customers appropriately, and creates an enforcement challenge. Enforcement is time consuming and the ordinance does not provide clear-cut specificity. Additionally, a thorough reading of the ordinance highlighted an issue in which the construct of the language in Section 30-9 allows for a departure from the original intent of a time limitation for vending to a permissive allowance of vending anywhere, with no time limitation, so long as the vending occurs between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.
“This interim amendment addresses several inconsistencies and is just one element of the comprehensive updates that will benefit all of Arlington’s businesses and customers,” said Arlington Economic Development spokeswoman Cara O’Donnell. “As we move forward in the process, we’ll be having conversations with all stakeholders for input.”
An association of local food truck owners say they’re happy with the county’s proposal.
“The Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington is extremely pleased that Arlington is continuing its efforts to make the County a place where small businesses like ours can grow,” said Doug Povich, owner of the Red Hook Lobster Pound truck. “Of all the jurisdictions in the area, Arlington seems to understand best how manage the various interests of all stakeholders in a way that benefits everyone. We look forward to continuing our work with the County as it is moves into the next stage of its regulatory process.”
Currently, under Arlington County Code 30-9, food trucks are prohibited from vending on a public street for more than an hour in one spot. The enforcement of that portion of the Arlington County Code led to an outcry among food truck owners, who say it unfairly targets their business in order to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants.
Late last year, the Institute for Justice, an Arlington-based libertarian law firm, announced that it was taking up the case of Arlington food trucks as part of its National Street Vending Initiative, which seeks to break down legal barriers for street vendors. Today, that effort bore fruit.
An Arlington County judge, at the request of prosecutors from the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, dismissed a loitering charge against Hyun “Anna” Shil Goree, co-owner of the Seoul Food truck. Goree was charged with the crime — a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500 — after a police officer determined that she had not moved her truck “far enough” to comply with the law.
Last year Goree was fined $25 and $200 after pleading no contest to street vendor loitering charges in August and October. After being charged again in December, she decided to fight back, enlisting the help of the the Institute for Justice and the law firm of Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher LLP. The charged was dismissed today via a nolle prosequi motion.
The Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington, which has spoken out against the Arlington ordinance, says the dismissal is a victory against an arbitrary law that’s “vague and open to different interpretations.”
“This case highlights the absurdity of treating what amounts to a parking violation as a crime on par with assault,” said Doug Povich, co-owner of Red Hook Lobster Pound truck and Chairman of the Food Truck Association. “The Food Truck Association hopes to work with the County in the months ahead to craft a food-truck law that serves the County’s residents and workers and keeps food trucks as a vibrant part of Arlington’s business community and streetscape.”
Arlington County spokeswoman Mary Curtius said the county is indeed working to change the ordinance.
“We realize that the 60-minute time limit is challenging for vendors and for customers, and we are working to change it,” Curtius said. “We hope to be bringing something forward in the Spring.”
Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos said she asked for the charges to be dismissed after consulting with the police department.
“I made the decision… in consultation with the police department and with the awareness that the current ordinance is very difficult to enforce,” she told ARLnow.com. “It’s difficult to enforce because it requires a police officer to watch a truck for an hour (or some other witness willing to come to court to testify to the fact that the food truck hasn’t moved in 60 minutes)… then there is the definition of ‘move’ that is also problematic. Does it mean an inch? A parking space? Around the block?”
“The officers were responding to requests from store owners to enforce the ordinance,” Stamos continued. “Unfortunately, the ordinance, as written, is rather unclear and a criminal statute is always construed against the Commonwealth and in favor of the defendant, which is as it should be.”
Stamos said it’s “unlikely” that her office will prosecute additional loitering cases against food trucks until the County Board updates the ordinance.
The full press release from the Food Truck Association, after the jump.
Despite the fact that the election was two weeks ago, some political signs still have been spotted in public spaces around town in recent days. That’s against county code, but residents are being told to report, not remove rogue campaign signs.
Per code, all political signs were to be removed from the public right of way (such as road medians) by the campaigns within five days after the election. Those that remain are subject to confiscation by county staff. Residents who notice lingering signs are asked not to remove them; the signs are to be removed only by the organization that originally placed them, or by county zoning staff.
The regulations are part of the larger sign ordinance, which has been revamped this year. Audrey Clement, who ran for County Board as a Green Party candidate, spoke at the Board meeting on Saturday (Nov. 17) to complain about the lack of enforcement for the sign rules. Clement pointed out that leading up to the election, no more than two signs are to be placed in a public space. She reported to have sometimes seen “six to a median.” Clement also said she went around the county to remove her own signs after the election.
“Given the level of abuse, what is the point of wasting countless hours of community and staff time to revise an ordinance that the county itself ignores?” said Clement. “If the losers uphold the law, why can’t the winners enforce it?”
Board member Jay Fisette noted that candidates at the federal level would probably be less likely to know Arlington’s ordinances, but said they should have been informed of the regulations. He said Clement’s concern was warranted.
“Whether they’re federal, state or local candidates, the county should be enforcing them,” Fisette said.
Not all signs in Arlington fall within the county’s authority, however. Campaign signs along VDOT-maintained roads are subject to enforcement and removal by the state.
County staff has been removing signs they see or that are reported along county roads. Anyone who wants to report a political sign in violation of the ordinance may call code enforcement at 703-228-3232. The county is encouraging residents who wish to dispose of a political sign on their own personal property to recycle it.
Board Votes Against Taxi Driver Proposal — By a contentious vote of 3-2, the Arlington County Board last night voted against a proposal that would allow taxicab drivers to be issued taxi operating certificates on an individual basis. Currently, only taxi companies are granted certificates in Arlington. County Board Chair Mary Hynes, along with Jay Fisette and Libby Garvey, voted against the proposal, arguing that the current system is working well for riders. Chris Zimmerman and Walter Tejada took the side of a coalition of taxi drivers that has been pushing for a driver-based certificate system. [Sun Gazette]
Meetings for Noise Control Ordinance — Updated at 8:45 a.m. — The County Board last night voted unanimously to defer a scheduled hearing on a series of proposed changes to the county’s noise control ordinance. Instead, two public meetings will be held to discuss the changes, in advance of a Board vote on advertising and holding a public hearing on the revisions. The first meeting will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 13, from 6:00 to 9:30 p.m. at the 2012 Navy League Building (2300 Wilson Boulevard). The second will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 14, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Shirlington Branch Library (4200 Campbell Street). [Arlington County]
Examiner Endorses Murray — The Washington Examiner has endorsed Republican Patrick Murray in the race for Virginia’s 8th District congressional seat. The paper lauded Murray’s military experience and said he “is clearly the better choice.” Earlier this month the Washington Post endorsed Murray’s opponent, long-time incumbent Rep. Jim Moran. [Washington Examiner]
Among the proposed changes, county staff is recommending an increase in the fine for a noise violation from $25 to a maximum of $2,500. Jail time would also be possible under the revised ordinance.
The county started the process of revising the ordinance in 2009, which the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that a provision in Virginia Beach’s noise control ordinance — a “reasonable person” standard for judging noise violations — was “unconstitutionally void due to its vagueness.”
Arlington’s current ordinance contains the same “reasonable person” standard. At the moment, the only enforceable parts of the ordinance require police or inspectors to either use a volume meter to see if noise is above a set threshold, or to catch someone engaging in a “prohibited act,” like idling an engine for too long or sounding a car horn for reasons other than as an “emergency warning signal.”
The revised ordinance will help with enforcement of the ordinance by clarifying how sound level meters are to be used to determine violations.
Under the ordinance, construction and special event noise above 90 dB will be prohibited. According to the staff report, it also “strengthens requirements to have developers and owners determine and provide industry-standard sound mitigation solutions for noise sources at construction sites.”
The threshold for vehicle noise will be 70-90 dB, depending on the vehicle’s speed and weight, and the threshold for other sources of noise will be 55-70 dB, depending on which part of the county the noise is impacting (residential, commercial, etc.).
The new ordinance also clarifies some of the “prohibited acts.” For instance, it will prohibit residents from playing music or blasting their TV so loud that it can be heard in another apartment or house at least 20 feet away, or in an adjacent yard at least 50 feet away.
The county government and its contractors are exempt from the ordinance.
There’s been a large scale revamp of the sign regulations in Arlington’s Zoning Ordinance. The County Board approved changes to the ordinance during a marathon meeting last night (Tuesday) that stretched into the early morning.
The effort is intended to clarify gray areas, modernize the regulations and to make them easier for everyone to understand. Major issues included signs placed in the public right-of-way by private parties, the County Board’s involvement in reviewing sign requests and regulations for roofline signs.
Board members Walter Tejada and Chris Zimmerman pushed for a ban on commercial roofline signs — those installed above a height of 40 feet — but it didn’t pass. The county Planning Commission favored the ban, but county staff recommended keeping the signs. The remaining three Board members ended up siding with county staff.
The Board acknowledged the difficulty of resolving the issue and pleasing all involved parties; speakers representing business interests (and some residents) at the meeting spoke in favor of keeping the signs, while a number of residents said they’d like them removed.
“We are being overwhelmed by this development,” said resident Jim Hurysz, speaking against rooftop signs. “If I wanted to live in downtown Las Vegas, I’d live there.”
“I like signs. I look for signs to know where I am. It’s useful, it’s attractive,” countered Rosslyn resident Valerie Crotty. “You’re not living in a suburb. You’re not living in a rural area.”
“All of these companies are now asking themselves ‘does Arlington not want us here?'” said Arlington Economic Development Commission member Marty Almquist. “‘Are they embarrassed that we’ve decided to locate here? Are they not interested in this live, work, play concept that has been touted for the Metro corridor?'”
“In the past, Arlington could rely on companies to relocate here,” Almquist continued. “That will all change when the Silver Line opens in 2013. Tysons Corner and Reston are going to be Metro accessible… that means Arlington needs to have at its disposal a variety of incentives to our tenants to persuade them to move here or stay here… one of those incentives needs to be signage.”
Board member Libby Garvey supported the signs, saying they distinguish Arlington and highlight its exciting atmosphere as an urban village.
“It’s so hugely personal,” Garvey said. “To me, if they’re done well, the sign, it gives the building a personality.”
Under the new regulations, businesses will have to limit the use of lighted signs to 8:00 a.m to 10:00 p.m. (a midnight cut-off was originally proposed) if they face national monuments or lands, such as Arlington National Cemetery or the National Mall. Those signs also will be limited to only one per facade. The Board approved limiting the brightness of lighted signs that are within 100 feet of residential high rises.
Board member Jay Fisette noted that whether for or against lighted signs, addressing the issue in the ordinance is “evolutionary.” Previously, the county did not have any set standards for these types of signs.
Existing signs that previously had been approved but may not meet the new standards will be grandfathered in, at least for now.
Much of the approval process for new signs will now lie with county staff, instead of requiring Board approval. It was noted that this provision is not designed to allow the approval of a higher percentage of signs or to make the regulations less stringent, it’s simply to reduce how often individual sign issues have to go before the Board, so members are freed up to deal with other issues. Small businesses had frequently expressed disapproval over the length of time involved with the sign permitting process, considering 30-40 percent of them had to be approved by the Board.
The final point garnering attention dealt with signs in the public right-of-way. Under the new regulations, temporary signs advertising lost pets or community events — such as a meeting or spaghetti dinner — will be allowed, provided they meet size requirements, are secured to the ground, and stay in place for no longer than seven consecutive days. Noncommercial signs that aren’t secured to the ground — like most A-frame signs — would be prohibited in the public right-of-way, but will still be allowed on private property.
The process of updating the signs regulations in the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance has been ongoing since December 2010. County staff members gathered input on the three revised drafts at a number of public hearings and workshops before presenting the Board with the final proposal last night.
Despite nearly six hours of back-and-forth debate on individual aspects of the ordinance, the Board eventually unanimously voted to approve it.
“I think it is not perfect, and I think it is like anything, going to change. But I’ve been unhappy with the sign ordinance in this county since I first got involved with the Board,” said Zimmerman. “I do think the bulk of this is a real step forward for the county.”
Now that A-frame signs and branded sidewalk cafe umbrellas have been approved for use in Arlington, the County Board is moving on to other, slightly less pressing signage issues as it works to revamp the county’s sign ordinance.
Last week Board members held a work session with County Manager Barbara Donnellan to give input on revisions they’d like to see to the proposal before the final version is inked. The latest draft was devised based on staff input and information gathered at public sessions last year.
One proposed change that all the Board members indicated support for was reducing the number of signs issues that require the Board’s attention. The hope is that by making the ordinance more clear and specific, fewer cases will need special approval.
The county also hopes to include clear standards for illuminated signs. Before that topic can be adequately addressed, Donnellan said a lighting consultant must be hired. Suggestions for illuminated sign restrictions include requiring businesses to turn off lit signs between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. Currently, there aren’t guidelines for lit signs in the ordinance because such signs weren’t widespread the last time the Board made revisions. Of particular concern are some of the signs on high rises in Rosslyn, such as on the Northrop Grumman building.
“It starts to look like a commercial district with major marketing when you come across the bridge,” said Board Member Jay Fisette. “I really don’t want to see that proliferate.”
Another topic garnering attention is the issue of allowing commercial signs on the so-called public right of way, such as medians. Right now, only political signs and real estate signs can be put up in these areas. The board splintered on this issue, suggesting solutions ranging from eliminating commercial signs on medians altogether, to imposing fees or permits for such a practice.
The Board voiced approval for listing specific times for when a sign can be put out and must be brought in. Along with that came the idea to revise how far away a sign may be placed from its advertised event. The proposal currently suggests half a mile, but the Board members prefer a quarter mile.
“We are the smallest county in the nation, only 26 square miles,” said Board Member Walter Tejada. “Half a mile is a lot of space.”
Donnellan and staff members will incorporate the Board’s suggestions into a new draft of the ordinance, and additional public meetings will be scheduled in the spring to discuss the nearly finished proposal. The goal for submitting a final revised ordinance and getting it approved is July.
“We certainly have an awful lot of work ahead of us,” Donnellan said.
A group called The Arlington Egg Project is holding its monthly meeting tonight at the Fairlington Community Center (3308 S. Stafford St.) at 7:00 p.m. The group’s goal is to get the county to change its ordinances so residents may keep a limited number of hens in their backyards.
Next month, the group is holding an “I Love Hens” evening of film and entertainment at the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike). The event will feature family friendly stand up comedy, a showing of the documentary “Mad City Chickens: The Return of the Urban Backyard Chicken!” and a conversation about urban agriculture with County Board Member Jay Fisette. Tickets for the February 16 event are $5.
The Arlington Egg Project cites numerous reasons for wanting backyard chickens, including reducing household food costs and increasing family nutrition. As part of its urban agriculture initiative, the County Board decided to create a task force this year that will look into a number of issues, including backyard hen raising.