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County Releases Draft of New Sign Regulations

(Updated at 3:15 p.m.) Arlington County has released a preliminary draft of its new sign regulations.

After holding sign workshops and promising more business-friendly regulations, the county has come up with a long list of changes to the existing ordinance. The changes are designed to “make the [sign] ordinance earlier to understand and use, and easier to administer and enforce,” while incorporating “best practices in sign regulation.”

Among the proposed changes, the county would allow sandwich board — or A-frame — signs on sidewalks, in direct contrast to the current ban on such signs, which are popular with shop owners in other urban areas. Sandwich board signs would be permitted so long as it doesn’t reduce the clear sidewalk width below six feet. Staff notes that “consideration is also being given to alternatives in areas where a six-foot clear width is not possible.”

Restaurants might be more willing to use branded umbrellas on their outdoor patios under the proposed regulations. Wording on umbrellas would not count toward a business’ overall sign allowance if the draft regulations are adopted.

Additionally, certain signs would be permitted in the so-called public right-of-way. Signs from non-profit groups — like the Boy and Girl Scouts or various civic groups — would be allowed. Currently, only political signs and real estate signs are allowed on public property (like roadway medians) and only under certain conditions. Staff is still considering whether to allow commercial signs.

Another big change is the proposal that new sign permits be considered by county staff without County Board approval. Currently, many businesses have to go through an expensive “comprehensive sign plan” process and a County Board vote to get certain signs approved. Under the new proposal, that process would be offloaded to county staff, who would have the power to approve such signs on an administrative level, under clearly defined standards.

County staff is also considering whether to recommend a change in the definition of what makes something a sign. That could potentially be significant for businesses like Wag More Dogs, which has been engaged in a legal battle with the county over whether its wall mural constitutes a sign.

The county’s Zoning Committee will be holding a public forum on Tuesday, Sept. 13 to discuss the sign recommendations. The meeting will be held at the Washington-Lee High School cafeteria from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m.

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