Hearings Planned for Latest Sign Ordinance Revision

by Katie Pyzyk June 20, 2012 at 2:55 pm 3,653 39 Comments

The long process surrounding updating the county’s sign ordinance trudges on, as the County Board approved additional public hearings at last night’s meeting.

The unanimous approval set one public hearing on the Zoning Ordinance changes for July 9, and another for July 24. Both will be in the third-floor Board Room at 2100 Clarendon Blvd.

One issue residents consistently raised at public workshops last year, and continue to contact the county about, is that of signs in the public right away — on road medians and the like. Currently, only two types of signs are allowed in the right of way — political and directional real estate signs. The real estate signs are allowed on weekends, typically to identify open houses, and political signs can remain for 31 days prior to an election.

A proposed amendment would allow non-commercial signs to remain in areas like medians for seven days at a time. Examples of those signs include lost pets, civic association meetings and community fundraisers. Directional commercial signs would be allowed on weekends for events in residential districts, such as yard sales and open houses. The signs would all have to be within half a mile of the events they are advertising.

A number of residents have suggested permitting volunteers to enforce the signs ordinance, and to remove non-compliant signs in the public right of way. Although citizen enforcement originally offered some appeal due to citizens being able to respond more quickly to offending signs, county staff says complications arose upon further examination. For instance, injuries or property damage during sign removal could be a liability to the county, and citizens may make mistakes if they don’t have an extensive knowledge of the zoning ordinance. Thus, that idea was scrapped.

Other proposed changes to the ordinance came up at a county work session in January, and include standards for lighted signs as well as provisions that would reduce the number of sign issues that need to go before the County Board for approval.

Work on the revised sign regulations has been ongoing since December 2010, and has involved “intensive” participation from County Commissions, residents and business owners.

“This proposed overhaul of our sign regulations will make it easier for everyone — both residents and business owners — to understand and follow the rules,” said Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes. “The proposed regulations also set the stage for businesses to put up creative signs that enliven our commercial areas and meet residents’ expectations.”

  • KalashniKEV

    1) NO to political signs and other litter.
    2) YES to murals.
    3) YES to A-frame signs.

    • JamesE

      How effective are political signs? If anything they make me want to not vote for the person.

      • KalashniKEV

        They’re just litter… and it’s so funny that they get a special exception to the law.

        • drax

          Look at the 2nd Amendment supporter forgetting about the 1st.

          • John Fontain

            The first amendment provides protection for putting private political signs on public right of ways? I learn something new everyday!

          • drax

            Yes, Kev, there are First Amendment rights related to public spaces. You can also carry a sign in a public space, for instance. You should read about it.

          • KalashniKEV

            You guys keep making assumptions about me… I support the whole, entire, and complete BOR. Fontain just put you in your place, so I don’t have to, but please, try to be a little more on point with your comments.

            You’re slipping lately!

      • Keith

        I think the most effective thing about the political signs is that they give the opponents of that candidate something to whine about when there are too many or they get left up after the election.

        • Josh S

          Certainly the most noteworthy thing about them.

      • Clarendon

        I think the signs are potentially effective when on private property (e.g. someone’s front yard). In that context it is the same as an endorsement and potentially spurs interaction with ones neighbors which is good and healthy in a democracy.

        On the other hand, a bunch of paid or volunteer workers peppering the medians does nothing and conveys nothing except clutter.

    • drax

      1) Uh, First Amendment.

    • Josh S

      We see that Kev has passed Propaganda 101 – use language to associate things you don’t approve of with other things that most people don’t approve of.

      Gold Star.

  • JamesE

    I was at First Down when they had their three year anniversary celebration, a county worker came in and made them move their sign and remove their balloons, true story.

  • Dr_Klahn

    So they’re worried about someone getting hurt volunteering to remove signs, but they’re not worried about someone throwing out their back shoveling snow at a bus stop?

    • John Fontain

      What ^^he/she^^ said!

  • Westover Leftover

    Many parts of the proposed ordinance are unenforceable.

    For example, the ordinance permits signs in the public right-of-way during weekends that advertise the directions to any type of commercial activities (real estate sales and rental, used car sales, yard sales, attorney’s offices, work-at-home projects, etc.) that take place with areas zoned R and RA (residential) within one-half mile of the sign.

    However, the signs will not need to provide the address or zoning of the place of business. It will therefore be difficult or impossible for anyone to determine whether the signs are legal or not without first determining the address of the business and the zoning of the property that contains the business, as well as the distance between the sign and the business.

    The amendments will permit anyone to use the County’s parks to advertise their events if the part of the events will take place in the parks. This includes such large events as “Bike to Work” day, fund-raising walks, etc., that take place in the park and outside of it.

    This will add a large amount of clutter to the County’s parks, especially if the sponsors of the event do not remove the signs after the event is over.

    The amendments will allow non-commercial signs advertising lost cats, lost cell phones, community dinners, etc., on sidewalks and medians near intersections for up to seven days, including weekdays.

    After seven days, the sign can be moved a short distance and then remain in place for another seven days. The same sign can be used repeatedly. The sign must contain the date that it was placed; this date can be changed whenever the sign is moved.

    The amendments do not contain any provisions that will permit County employees to remove illegal signs.

    The present sign ordinance contains such a provision, but the proposed ordinance does not.

    All in all, the amendments will greatly increase clutter within the County on weekends and during the week.

    Take Westover as an example. 20+ businesses each could put out a sign? Welcome to Falls Church.

  • Arlingtoon

    I’ve been doing “citizen enforcement” in my neighborhood since moving to Arlington. That’s especially the case when the offending sign is on my property.

    • soarlslacker

      If some one leaves trash on your property, you have evry right to dispose of it properly.

      • Arlingtonian

        Signs are not trash, even if somebody places them on your property without your permission. You do not own the sign. Somebody else does. If you dispose of the sign, you can be prosecuted or sued.

        Would you dispose of a car that somebody has parked in your driveway? If you did that without notifying the police and/or the owner, you would be in deep doo-doo.

        From a legal standpoint, a sign is no different. You cannot dispose of one unless a statute or ordinance permits you to do so.

        • Neutrino

          That’s patently untrue. You can absolutely discard property intentionally left on your estate.

          • beercan in front yard


        • Deshotz

          Wouldn’t the sign qualify as abandoned property?

          • beercan in front yard

            Correct and VDOT (Virginia Department of Transportation) prohibits ALL signs
            on VDOT ROW (Right of Way)

        • John Fontain

          “Would you dispose of a car that somebody has parked in your driveway?”

          I sure as heck would, I’d have it towed.

          “If you dispose of the sign, you can be prosecuted or sued.”

          You can be sued for anything. That doesn’t mean you’ll lose. And how would one resolve the issue of a sign being put in their yard? Are you seriously suggesting that if someone puts a sign in your yard that you have to permanently leave it there?

        • Dr_Klahn

          And by your logic anytime someone got evicted they could just move their stuff around from one person’s driveway to the next and noone would be allowed to touch it – wrong!

          • drax

            Obviously you can remove something left on your property.

            What exactly you can do with it next is the issue.

            For instance, you can tow a car from your driveway. You couldn’t claim it as yours, or dump it in a lake, or set it on fire.

            Not sure what the law says about signs.

        • Josh S


  • been there done that

    Arlington County seems to be not interested in enforcing the current illegal sign laws.

    Citizens can work within the system and be arrested and have to defend themselves:



    These current changes to the zoning regulations will allow almost no enforcement, illegal sign installers are always looking for counties that will let them post illegal signs (paid for by “local” businesses.

    Look for more illegal signs by:

    Sports and Health

    Kung Fu classes

    Business closing

    You Call We Haul

    And on and on and on …

    • drax

      “Citizens can work within the system and be arrested and have to defend themselves.”

      Stealing signs is not “working within the system.”

  • marie antoinette

    Political signs are a waste of a candidate’s money in the socialist republic of Arlington. Since Dem’s own the county, maybe they can divert some of their money allocated to signs to the Folly Trolley to help offset that ghastly endeavour?

    • drax

      Um, the primary? Duh.

  • YTK

    They should take down those &*(^$%#! signs RIGHT AFTER Election day — or else be fined for littering

    • drax

      Every sign taken down in 24 hours?

      The candidates often don’t even know where all the signs are. They are put up by volunteers.

      • Ballston Resident

        I doubt he meant the candidate should take them down themselves.

        Volunteers should should take down signs they put up. Very simple, very easy.

  • ACDC Hack

    Kind of ironic that there is a Hynes sign in the photo………

    • Josh S


      • nom de guerre

        Because the sign is located in that long “Josh Ess” block between Harris Teeter and the Water Pollution Control Plant.

        • Josh S

          Admit it – that was a stretch.

          • WeiQiang

            i don’t get it. There is one block between the plant and HT. The fact that the intersection at Glebe and JDH is about a mile wide doesn’t mean that it’s not a block, does it? ccik


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