By Bridgett Lynn

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Friday, July 2, 2010

On Tuesday, a second roundtable discussion was held to receive input from the community on a proposed Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) to update sign regulations for Albemarle

County’s entrance corridors

and the overall sign approval process.


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“It is clear that the county does not want to do anything that would jeopardize good community design,” said Ron Higgins, Albemarle County’s Chief of Zoning. “Therefore, the signage ZTA is important as it can impact community design standards if not done carefully.”.

A store along

U.S. Route 29

North near Lowe’s was discussed as one example of a signage challenge facing a local business.

Under the current sign ordinance, which regulates the location, size, height, number, and design of signs along the entrance corridors, Stereo Types asked for relief because trees required and planted at the neighboring business Salem M Eways are now blocking the visibility of the store’s building sign.

“[The owner] put his sign where he was recommended to put it, and then the…landscape and the landscaping obscured his sign,” said Higgins. “Personally I think his remedy could be a new sign permit and [to] move the sign.”






Ron Higgins (right), Albemarle County’s Chief of Zoning, addresses roundtable participants


According to the meeting summary of feedback provided at the first roundtable, Stereo Types was allowed a new sign closer to U.S. 29, but only if it was smaller.  The owner said that a new sign meeting the county’s requirements would cost over $20,000.

To ensure that the sign ordinance does not overly restrict economic vitality of businesses in the area, the

Board of Supervisors


initiated the Zoning Text Amendment process in May

to evaluate the regulations.

Some suggestions made in the first and second roundtables included reducing restrictions on overall sign sizes and the distance a sign is allowed to be placed from its storefront.

“I think about the Penske truck sign that’s near my office…I can never see that sign,” said Neil Williamson, executive director of the

Free Enterprise Forum

. “The reason businesses spend money on signs, as you well know, is to be found. They don’t really want to have a huge sign if they can [already] be found.”

“[However,] if you start to get to a point where people are competing to have the biggest sign and you’re having all sorts of signs, [then] you get to the point where it’s clutter,” responded Morgan Butler of the

Southern Environmental Law Center

. “It actually gets harder to find [the stores].”

“The other extreme would be trying to get around the County’s prohibition of billboards and basically turning your sign into an advertisement, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid,” said Butler.

Williamson was concerned that the current sign ordinance is not designed for safety purposes as much as it is for aesthetic purposes. His

‘Eye of the Beholder’

report, which was released in May, used a review of public documents and case studies to highlight the expansion of the

Architectural Review Board

(ARB) power beyond the scope envisioned when it was founded in 1990.

“What’s the goal of the ordinance?” asked Williamson. “Is it truly safety? Is it aesthetics? Is there something to be done to identify that balance?”

A comprehensive signage package with a modified verbiage about “keeping consistent with history of previous signs” for certain scale and scopes of development was brought up in the first roundtable to be used at the start of construction and reviewed by staff, the ARB, and the

Planning Commission

.

“It comes down to signs that are meant to help provide the location of an entity,” said Butler. “If there are changes we can make to the ordinance that improves that function of a sign, I think those are well worth exploring.”

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on August 17 on the proposed ZTA in accordance to this resolution of intent, and will make its recommendations to the Board of Supervisors at the earliest date possible.

All comments and suggestions from the two roundtables will be considered as the

Department of Community Development

drafts amendments in July to the current sign ordinance over the next several months. Their hopes is that the results from these roundtables will provide a better balance between business community needs and the desire of the overall community and businesses for a quality built environment.

The draft ZTA with revisions from the ARB and PC is scheduled to be completed on October 6 and sent out for a tentative third roundtable discussion scheduled for October 21.


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