With campaigns underway now for this November’s elections, campaign signs have begun appearing in yards and along roads—often illegally.
The county regulates how large temporary signs, such as campaign signs, can be on private property, while the state regulates what signs are allowed on roads.
The Virginia Department of Transportation prohibits signs on or overhanging the right-of-way. The state works with local agencies and Adopt-A-Highway participants to enforce the rule, and can take down any signs that violate the rules. The state can also levy a $100 fine for each nonconforming sign, a civil penalty.
In 2009, VDOT and the county entered an agreement in which the county regularly patrols problem routes to remove signs in the state right-of-way; in 2012, the Board of Supervisors limited county staff members to doing that once a week. When signs are large or affixed to posts, the county refers them to VDOT to handle.
Off the roads, the county’s zoning ordinances set the rules on signs.
In 2017, Loudoun supervisors updated their rules on temporary signs, such as political signs, after county attorneys and the state Attorney General warned that the old rules were likely unconstitutional.
Previously, temporary signs had been limited to no more than four square feet in size. When they updated the rules, supervisors greatly increased that: property owners can have as many signs as they like, up to 32 square feet each.
County staff members had recommended limiting the number of signs and total square footage of all signs on a property. Supervisors voted unanimously not to limit the number or total square footage of temporary signs on a property, only limiting the size of any one sign to 32 square feet. Those signs must be at least five feet back from the right-of-way and no more than eight feet tall.
Those signs may be posted for a duration of 120 days, meaning that if a sign is up until election day, Nov. 5, it could have gone up as early as July 8. Campaigns must apply to the county regulators for a zoning permit to places signs throughout the county.
Loudoun’s zoning ordinances, including its sign rules, are complaint-based, meaning if no complaint is filed, typically no action is taken. If a sign is in violation, the county’s zoning administrator can order the sign be taken down; if that does not happen, the zoning administrator can issue a civil summons. Under Loudoun ordinances, the violator may have to pay a penalty of $200 for the first charge and $500 for each additional violation, with each day counting as a new violation and capped at $5,000. After that, it may be prosecuted as a criminal offense.