Changes to County Sign Regulations Approved

by Katie Pyzyk July 25, 2012 at 4:30 pm 6,710 61 Comments

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.”

  • hey republicans!

    You got the board member you wanted: Libby Garvey.

    • Elmer

      How on earth do you come up with that??

      • hey republicans!

        She’s pro-business, and anti-streetcar.

        • Elmer

          Oh, so that’s why the Republicans have put up an opponent to her?
          Your logic is sorely lacking.

          • hey republicans!

            Let’s be honest, us Republicans have not put a lot of thought or effort into gaining a county board seat for the last 15 years. We all know Matt Wavro will never win. Garvey is trolling for our votes. She’s a DINO. If we cultivate her, we’ll have the rep we always wanted. She’s running full steam ahead against Zimmie and the current board. She clearly likes the role of doubter or naysayer. Why not take advantage of it?

          • drax

            True, and by the same logic, Dems shouldn’t have chosen Garvey in the primary.

  • JamesE

    Jim Hurysz, speaking against rooftop signs. “If I wanted to live in downtown Las Vegas, I’d live there.”

    clearly comparable Mr. Hurysz


    • South Awwlington

      The EXACT same Jim Hurysz who argued week after week in support of the fabulous articulated busses of Vegas as an option for Columbia Pike??? Really now!!! I am flabbergasted at the hypocrisy – the picking and choosing of some things Vegas and some things not. To hear him speak, Vegas was the land of Milk and Honey and things wonderful relating to transportation.

      • observer

        most republicans are hypocrites.

        • T

          most people are hypocrites

        • B Harper

          that’s a clown statement!

          • B Harper

            sorry “T”, my previous comment was directed at “observer”

          • JnA

            I also want the articulated ACE bus but don’t want Rosslyn to look like downtown Las Vegas. What’s wrong with that? Why don’t you 2100 Trolls leave Jim Hurysz alone? Go back to planning the total urbanization of Bluemont.

          • jmc

            I live in Rosslyn and the corporations wanted large rooftop signs all over lighted all night long. Thank you Mr. Hurysz.

      • Josh S

        That’s hypocracy?

        So I’m a hypocrite if I say I like Big Macs but can’t stand McNuggets?

        Or if I say I like January Jones but Elizabeth Moss doesn’t do much for me?

        Next you’ll say I must accept Tusk if I express appreciation for Rumours.

        These things are not hypocrisy. Neither is wishing to import the buses of Vegas but not the bright lights.

    • cd

      As a matter of fact the business groups who spoke at the meeting do want many, many, large lighted signs installed in Rosslyn.

      • Don

        If the business groups were able to do what they wanted Rosslyn would look like downtown Vegas. Signs all the way up the buildings’ facades on all four sides from street level to rooftop.

        • CalGrrl

          Did anyone else hear the statement Economic Development Commission Chair Marty Almquist made about building signs? She is all for whatever signs the business community want, downtown Vegas signage, whatever, as long as it makes the business community happy. BTW, the Economic Development Commission paid for the pro-signage buttons the business community leaders wore at the meeting.

  • Elmer

    “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.”

    Yes, lighted signs on high rise buildings surrounding Arlington Cemetery, Iwo Jima Memorial, Tomb of the Unknowns, the Pentagon Memorial,etc. will contribute so much dignity and reverance.

    • ARLwahoo

      I can’t tell if you’re for or against it, but I guess I’m with the board. ArlCemetary is a peaceful, beautiful place lit up by only the Lee House and the American Flag. While Arlington building signs shouldn’t (and probably cannot) be so bright that it lights up the place, it still is dark and beautiful there at night. While going past the other morning, I saw a funeral procession entering, and it reminded me that the place is home to those who died fighting for America. If someone decides a lighted sign may take away from its glory, all the more power to them. Seems dumb to fight those protecting our dead, no matter in how trivial a way…

      As for the Mall, I couldn’t care less. But I guess if you can see the mall, you’re in view of a lot of other places listed..

      • Elmer

        Arlwahoo, You can’t tell if I am for or against the county board’s now allowing lighted high rise signs around those memorials?
        I thought U.VA was famous for its sarcasm.
        To be plain, I think allowing that is an affront to the dignity and reverance owed by us to our fallen heros.

        • drax

          You thought UVA was famous for its sarcasm?

          • Elmer

            Yep. The U.Va president had to disband and apologize for a student band when they went to a bowl game and showed up with Elvis impersonators and a mock outhouse. They were playing Tennessee.

          • Mrs. Jefferson

            Oh, you should have known Tommy when he was a little boy. Such a sarcastic smart-ass. Freedom-this and republic-that.

    • BallsTown

      If a lighted sign that displays a company’s name is going to throw you into a fit, I don’t know what to tell you.

      • nimby

        what would you tell me if it was across the street from your condo?

        • jackson

          I would ask if the building and/or sign was there when you bought your condo.

        • Ballstonian

          I wouldn’t care, much like I don’t care that theres a bus stop and a busy road outside my apt now, and that I can see the lighted signs of Ballston from my balcony.

          I just don’t get the “if we let a company put up a sign that says their name, next thing you know, its going to be Times Vegas, with giant jumbotrons and huge neon cowboys everwhere!!!!!1111oneoneone” panic.

        • Ballstonian

          If you want to be free from any and all vestiges of urban life, then methinks buying a condo in the B-R- corridor is probably not a smart move.

    • who was the 1?

      Lighted signs on buildings are an affront to the dead? Oh please.

      Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

      • Josh S

        I tend to agree. It is possible for hero-worship to go too far. I’m pretty comfortable that there is already plenty, puh-lenty of reverance, deference, respect, reference, reminders, etc to the armed forces here in the Washington, DC metro area.

      • Elmer

        To who was the 1?:
        Good grief. How about we just walk all over the graves of our fallen heros and dump their tomestones? No respect for the dead. By all means, light up the skys with building signs around all our national cemeteries.
        They gave their lives so you could be a smarta** in a free nation.
        Proud of yourself?

        • who was the 1?

          So you are saying lighted signs a half-mile away are an affront to the dead. I don’t get it. Lighted signs don’t do any trampling on graves, etc. I suspect more than a few of the dead were all in favor of enterprise and success, and THAT is also part of what they were fighting for. And I agree with Josh S that there is plenty of reverence around here for all things military. For that matter, most of the lighted signs surrounding the memorials in Arlington will likely be from the very military-industrial complex that provided the fighting machines.

          • Ballstonian

            I would also be curious as to whether any potential signs would even be visible from most of Arlington Cemetery. I, for one, have never even noticed the buildings of Rosslyn when I’ve been there, let alone any signage.

            Also, is a light up sign a half mile away that says “Boeing” (or whatever) more of an affront than when the tourmobile woud drive along the roads of AC, or the thousands of tourists who walk through with little realization that theyre in a cemetery?

          • Elmer

            “… or the thousands of tourists who walk through with little realization that theyre in a cemetery?”

            You actually know people who have walked through Arlington National Cemetery and they did not know they in a cemetery? Really?

          • Ballstonian

            In the sense that they see it as a tourist attraction and not the actual resting place for thousands of service members? Absolutly. Loud talking, spitting on the ground, and general inappropriate-for-a-cemetary behavior abounds.

          • Elmer

            Ballstonian, And putting up lighted corporate logos on high rises around the cemetery offers those “thousands of tourists” a civic example/lesson in how to respect a cemetery?
            I think not.

          • Ballstonian

            I guess we just have differing assumptions of the visibility/impact of any potential signs. I’ve never noticed the buildings of Rosslyn when I’ve been there, so I doubt that a sign would even be visible, let alone so garish as to detract/offend.

            Also, I struggle to make the connection between name on a building in the distance and how that would negatively impact the already poor behavior of many tourists.

          • Elmer

            ” For that matter, most of the lighted signs surrounding the memorials in Arlington will likely be from the very military-industrial complex that provided the fighting machines.”

            IF you believe that, than you should like me, be opposed to permitting lighted signs on high rises around the cemetery.
            Please be consistent!

  • Renee

    So am I understanding correctly that the recent explosion of the A-frame signs in Clarendon placed on sidewalks outside of commercial establishments creating a slalom effect for pedestrians are now officially approved?

    • Tre

      I’m guessing you have nightmares about slip lanes

      • ArLater


    • Arlingtonian

      The County Board approved the sidewalk signs in Clarendon about six months ago. The signs are supposed to be placed outside of a six-foot wide clear area, to avoid a slalom for pedestrians and the handicapped.

      Many of the sidewalk signs that you see in Clarendon are within this six-foot clear area, as are the outdoor seating areas for eating and drinking establishments.

      The signs and seating areas are all illegal. Nevertheless, they will stay where they are because the County Board does not want to pay for all the inspectors that it would need to adequately enforce the County’s very complicated zoning ordinance.

  • NoVapologist

    I propose an ARLnow drinking game — Each time someone uses the phrase “urban village” you have to drink.

    • novasteve

      add in Tavern, Liberals and wraps, and you’ll get really drunk.

    • ACDC Hack

      How about “vibrant”…….

      • Moderator

        How about an original comment? From you, I mean. One?

        half a one?

        • ACDC Hack

          I leave the other half to you !!

    • Bluemontsince1961

      That and when someone uses the word “vibrant”. I’ll say this for Garvey, at least she used “exciting” instead of “vibrant.”

  • Greg

    So lighted signs can be used for 14 hours a day, only 1 to 5 of which are actually dark. Dumb.

    On a side note, Tejada and Zimmerman can do nothing to change my opinion after voting against lighted signs.

  • Mc

    No regulation of any kind was needed. This simply comes across as anti business. Arlington is a living city, not a grey monument.

    • Elmer

      I thought Arlington is supposed to an “urban village”, not an arcade/video game and light show,i.e., “Corridor of Light” public “art” project.

  • Westover Leftover

    There is more to this than just lighted signs on buildings:

    The revised ordinance will greatly increase the number and types of legal signs throughout the County. As some of the new sections are very complex, the County will find it nearly impossible to enforce some portions of the ordinance. Few people will know which signs are legal, and which are illegal. It is certain that the Board’s adoption of the ordinance will greatly increase the number of both legal and illegal signs throughout the County.

    Attachment C in the following URL contains the new ordinance that the County Board approved, with a few changes: http://arlington.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=2350&meta_id=102083

    Section 34.10 (pages 45-47) describes “Temporary signs placed by private parties in the public right-of-way. Speakers asked the Board to reduce the types of signs that this section would permit. No County Board members made comments that responded to requests. Instead, members of the Board asked County staff to prepare a draft amendment that would increase the types and sizes of signs (such as large A-frame signs) that civic associations (and probably anyone else) can legally place in the public right-of-way.

    Regarding the removal of illegal signs in the public right of way, Section 34.10.F (pages 46-47) states: “If any sign other than those allowed by this section and/or by an encroachment ordinance or permit granted by Arlington County is placed in, on or over the public right-of-way, it shall be deemed abandoned and may be removed and disposed of by the County without notice or other process. Removal of the sign by the County will not eliminate the violation that occurred from the placement of the sign; the County may separately pursue available penalties and remedies for such violation.”

    The bolded and underlined phrase “shall be deemed abandoned and” permits the public to remove illegal signs in the public right-of-way. Although I am not an attorney, it appears to me that nobody who disposes of abandoned property can be convicted of a criminal offense, such as petit larceny or grand larceny. It is clear from the language of this section that the County would have the right to remove illegal signs from the public right-of-way even if the section did not contain this phrase. Therefore, if the Commonwealth Attorney decides to prosecute somebody who removes an illegal sign from the public right-of-way, the defendant can inform the court of the specific language in the ordinance that apparently permits this removal, using the above information. Whether intended or not, the phrase is a loophole that protects people who remove illegal signs from sidewalks, medians and parks. It is less ambiguous than the comparable language that existed in the former sign ordinance.

    Section 34.10 is very complex. Very few signs will comply with the conditions of the ordinance. Note for example, section 34.10.C (Identification) (page 45), which states: “Each sign shall bear clear identification and contact phone number of the establishment, person or other entity placing the sign or causing it to be placed; any sign that lacks such identification shall be considered a violation of this provision, regardless of whether it conforms with the other requirements of this provision

    You will see few signs that contain contact information for the person, establishment or entity that placed the sign or caused it to be placed. Many signs will say only “For Sale”, or may give the name of a real estate agency or in apartment building or condominium complex. The signs won’t have contact phone numbers. They will be illegal.

    Section 34.10.D allows directional signs (such as “For Sale” signs and signs to yard sales, etc.), but limits the locations of such signs to within one-half mile of the address of the establishment. Further, the establishment must be within a district that has specific residential zoning. The business cannot be within a mixed use district, such as Ballston, Clarendon or Rosslyn. You will see many such signs that are illegal.

    Learn the all of the provisions of Section 34.10. Then remove any signs in the public right-of-way or on other public lands (such as parks) that do not conform to any of the provisions of the section. Section 34.10.F. should protect you a member of the Commonwealth Attorney’s office decides to prosecute. Be sure, however, that the County has not granted a permit for the sign if it is in park or other public property controlled by Arlington County, as provided in Section 34.9.C.

  • neutrino

    What a non-issue. Who gives a ___ about signage?

    • Brasco

      Finally, a comment I agree with. Thank you!

    • bemused bystander

      You might as well ask, who gives a ___ how our community looks? Answer: lots of us do. Unregulated signage can quickly become visual blight or commercial clutter that overwhelms useful, attractive signs.

  • John Fontain

    Almquist’s argument is insultingly stupid.

  • VC

    The brightest sign facing Rosslyn, Arlington Cemetery, the DC Monuments, and the river is the red and white neon of the Nats Stadium.

    • Elmer

      IF that’s true than Arlington should add to the light pollution by lighting up signs on high rises around the cemetery?

  • HenryBennetXIII

    The planning commission should be dismissed.
    Watch the video at 2:13 the Guy says
    Signs are not essential to our success
    Signs provide no competitive edge
    Then concludes at 2:18 with
    Don’t give builders this huge economic windfall.
    So which is it?

  • Kyle Anderson

    I agree with you. With a focus on signage and cleaning up the appearance of all the businesses that will really promote and present a better message to consumers.

    Kyle Anderson


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