Political Season Signs Popping Up: Here are the Rules

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.

rgreene@loudounnow.com

4 thoughts on “Political Season Signs Popping Up: Here are the Rules

  • 2019-08-29 at 8:31 pm
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    You would do readers (and by extension everyone in Loudoun who’s sick to death of political signs, waving banners and all other visual distractions that some of us foist on the rest of us) if you would clearly explain what the right of way means. Then we’d know which signs we could safely remove with no one’s permission–just as we’d pick up trash along the highway to help keep Loudoun beautiful.

    Is it the edge of the pavement? Is it 10-15-20-25-or more feet from the center line of the road? Is it ‘x’ feet from the edge of the pavement?

  • 2019-08-30 at 11:03 am
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    That’s a great point. The ROW (right-of-way) is the portion of road/shoulder/grass area that VDOT officially maintains. It can reach from 5 feet from the road and extend to well over 50-100 feet…just depends on the area. Yes, it can even extend into private property. As a VDOT Adopt-A-Highway volunteer, the general rule of thumb is 15-20 feet from the edge of the road (painted line on outside). If it’s clearly private property, we leave it alone. If it’s the shoulder or 15-20 feet beyond and maintained by VDOT, we pluck it. Yes, that also includes the green space along the sides of Rt. 15. But if it’s a larger sign, just along a property owner’s fence line, we leave it. If you have questions, you need to officially reach out to VDOT and file a complaint. Then they can review and determine if it’s illegally posted. Keep in mind, this is not a speedy process. VDOT does not have the resources to follow up immediately on every request.
    The candidates and their volunteers should be respectful of these rules as they are state code.
    And, no, you don’t need anyone’s blessing or permission to pluck. Have at it and thanks for bringing up the point.

  • 2019-08-30 at 1:19 pm
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    Apart from County roads, HOAs have different rules about yard signs. For example John Whitbeck supporters in Landsdowne are in violation of Landsdowne HOA rules. Seems John would know that since he used to be on their board. But just like Wittmann, those pesky rules never seem to bother Republicans.

  • 2019-08-30 at 1:58 pm
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    Within town of Leesburg limits, candidates best not litter the right of way (including medians of roads like Battlefield Pwy. and US 15 , the bypass, Greenway ramps, etc. ) or the town road crews will confiscate them Mondays. Crews might be more lenient the weekend or days before the election in Nov. If one of your volunteers goes “rogue” and starts doing this, I believe candidates can pick the signs up at that little white building on the Liberty Street lot. It does you no good to litter signs in illegal places. I’ve run and won 4 elections so I think I know what works and what doesnt. Also, Loudoun Now — Thank you for running the photo of the signs for the Republican candidates 🙂

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