An example of an illegal commercial sign attached to a sign maintained by VDOT


For months, Albemarle County Supervisor

Dennis Rooker

(Jack Jouett) has been asking officials with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) if something can be done about illegal signs that are placed in the medians and shoulders of state roads.  VDOT has said in their experience it is not worth the time and effort to remove signs and prosecute violators.  Whether the County’s Zoning Department is in a better position to pursue violators is an open question.


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Rooker has said he finds signs littering the highways and advertising real estate open houses, ones that often appear on Friday and disappear on Sunday, as particularly offensive.  At their meeting on October 1, 2008, the Board received an update on the draft agreement which has been reached between Albemarle County and VDOT that would grant the County authority to remove these signs and fine their owners under

Virginia Code

. According to Allan Sumpter, VDOT Charlottesville Residency Administrator, the draft agreement is still under review by the Attorney General’s office.

Whether political signs will fall under the same regulations as advertising signs is being considered very carefully.  In a similar agreement made in Fairfax County in July, the Attorney General found that political signs do not fall under the same regulations as advertisements and therefore are allowed in state owned right-of-way.

In the Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell’s response to Fairfax County’s request for an

official advisory opinion

on this matter, McDonnell explained that in 1993 the Virginia General Assembly removed political signage from the

definition of advertisements

as defined by the Outdoor Advertising in Sight of Public Highways Act.

Sumpter told the Board that VDOT upper management has appealed the decision regarding political signs to the Attorney General’s office to point out the issues that they find problematic and would like the Attorney General to reconsider issues such as sight distance and safety.

Supervisor

Ann Mallek

(White Hall) asked if it would be helpful for citizens to weigh in with their support for VDOT’s appeal.

Sumpter explained that the information regarding removal of political signs may be in a different part of the Virginia code than that regulating advertising signs. If there is any change in VDOT’s position, Chairman Ken Boyd (Rivanna) asked Sumpter to let him know so that he could alert those in charge of political campaigns as to the new regulations regarding sign placement.  Sumpter asked that the Board emphasize to all of their contacts at political offices that they not place banners blocking sight distance at intersections.

Supervisor Mallek asked if it would be within protocol for VDOT to issue a press release describing the safety issues at intersections so people feel the moral burden not to place signs in these hazardous places. Supervisor

David Slutzky

(Rio) disagreed and said they should not draw attention to the Attorney General’s decision since it might encourage political signs in the right-of-way.

Sumpter told the Board that a letter is usually sent out during every election regarding signage, but not this year since there is ambiguity surrounding this recent decision.

Supervisor

Sally Thomas

(Samuel Miller) reminded Sumpter that the Board is interested in this issue and they would speak up on behalf of VDOT if it was necessary. Sumpter said the central office has been informed of the Board’s interest.  Slutzky wanted to make sure that Sumpter noted that the Board is not in complete agreement as to political sign regulations unless they interfere with public safety.

According to Sumpter, no timetable for response from the Attorney General has been provided.

Fania Gordon & Brian Wheeler

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