The county board is still trying to figure out how it wants to regulate temporary signs, almost a year after it started work.
Supervisors opened the debate over temporary yard signs last April, hoping to get work done before the presidential election. The county’s sign regulations, which provide different rules for temporary construction signs than other types of signs, were deemed unenforceable following a 2015 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
That meant that the county couldn’t crack down on noisome campaign signs.
Now, the work has been sent back to the May meeting of the board’s Transportation and Land Use Committee.
The latest draft of proposed rules would allow the total area of all signs on one property to be up to 32 square feet and up to eight feet high. One temporary sign per applicant would be allowed on lots less than 10 acres in size, and two would be allowed on larger lots. Zoning staff members explained that political signs would be considered off-site signs, permitted under the candidate’s name rather than the property owner, meaning multiple candidates could be advertised on the same property.
“If we’d have started out with just going from four feet to 20 feet and that would have been the end of it, we’d have solved the problem and been done and gone a year ago,” said Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin), referring to the difference in allowable size between construction signs and other temporary signs, at the issue’s second public hearing. “On we go.”
It’s also an issue requiring supervisors to regulate themselves—whatever rules they pass will apply to campaign signs for local office. Some of county zoning staff’s proposed rules have gotten backlash from supervisors—particularly a requirement to have signs down within 24 hours after the event ends, in this case an election. Board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said it would be “ridiculous” to expect candidates for office to collect thousands of yard signs within 24 hours of polls closing.
“I’d have to call out the Virginia National Guard to do that,” Buona said. Other supervisors agreed that rule would be unrealistic—including Blue Ridge Supervisor Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R), whose 236-square-mile district comprises nearly half of the county’s approximately 521.5 square miles according to the Loudoun County Office of Mapping and Geographic Information.
Many supervisors also showed interest in a recommendation by the Dulles Area Association of Realtors to regulate the number of signs on a property by road frontage rather than acreage. Buona also expressed concern at the idea of allowing eight-by-four-foot signs.
“If every developer who wants to sell their houses starts putting these eight-by-fours up all the time, I know we’re going to get a huge public backlash,” Buona said.
Conversely, County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) worried that allowing only one sign per 10 acres would be a problem for people selling their homes.
“If you have a piece of land that is that large, you need more than one sign just for drive-by traffic to know that you are trying to sell your house,” Randall said.
Transportation and Land Use Committee Chairwoman Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian), whose committee has worked on the ordinance several times already, said the sign rules are “a complex issue.”
“This has become much, much more complicated, and I am very concerned that we’re actually going to start impeding people’s freedom of speech,” Volpe said. “And on the other hand, no one has said a word about certain signs that are up all over the county, and even zoning enforcement—nobody wants to say anything, VDOT doesn’t want to say anything, because let’s just say it’s for a beloved principal.”
Volpe was likely referring to signs posted in support of John Brewer, the Dominion High School principal at the center of a months-long controversy.
“I just want to say, thank God the gentleman doesn’t live in my district, because he would kick my hm-hm if he ran against me,” Volpe said.
Virginia has elections every year, so supervisors have a chance to get it done before the November 2017 elections for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and the Virginia House of Delegates.
This article was updated on March 30 at 5:34 p.m. to correct an error about the House of Delegates election.