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WJLA Seeking Permission to Replace Jumbotron

The 8-year-old “Jumbotron” screen outside the WJLA building in Rosslyn has “fallen into disrepair” and needs to be replaced, according to a staff report filed in advance of this Saturday’s Arlington County Board meeting.

WJLA is asking the County Board to approve a site plan amendment that would allow the station to install a new high definition screen in place of the existing standard definition Jumbotron. The new screen would be smaller: 164 square feet compared to the current screen’s 172 square feet. It would also have a rectangular 16:9 aspect ratio, as opposed to the more square 4:3 aspect ratio of the current screen.

County staff is recommending the Board approve the new screen, but deny a separate request from WJLA to dedicate a portion of the screen to “commercial sponsor messages” unrelated to the normal WJLA programming.

According to the staff report:

The applicant is proposing that the Jumbotron screen be redesigned to display the WJLA broadcast on the main portion of the screen, with static community/cultural messages occupying 15% of the screen and static commercial sponsor messages occupying 8% of the screen. Currently, the screen displays the WJLA broadcast and interrupts service periodically to display community/cultural messaging.

“Such a use is prohibited by the Zoning Ordinance and a modification to allow it would be unprecedented in the County,” county staff writes.

The applicant agreed to a condition prohibiting deliberate commercial messages on the screen when the Jumbotron was approved in 2003… The Sign Ordinance prohibits the advertising of goods and services not available on the lot in which it is advertized [sic] due to the potential deleterious impacts that would result from such signs, including the proliferation of “billboards,” and the potential for increased sign clutter. There is no precedent for the County Board to approve a modification to this regulation as staff is not aware of such signs having been approved under the current Sign Ordinance.

It’s unclear if WJLA will proceed with the screen replacement if the County Board does not approve the commercial message portion of their request. It’s also unclear what exactly is broken in the current screen. A representative of Allbritton Communications, the parent company of WJLA, did not reply to a request for comment.

No changes to the wrap-around news ticker on either side of the screen are included in the request.

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