real estate signs in the public right-of-way proliferate on
Friday evenings, some disappearing on Sunday at dusk, others
becoming roadside rubbish. The Board of Supervisors has
asked about the legal status of such signs and enforcement
signs in the right-of-way are prohibited by Fauquier County
Code § 8-1000.2. Except for the two directional signs
authorized by Fauquier County Code § 8-1401 to be posted on
private property, they also constitute illegal billboards
under Fauquier County Code § 8-1000.5.
administrative remedy is to hire weekend sign officials to
police the County and remove illegal signs.
would entail a change in County enforcement philosophy.
Like most jurisdictions, the Zoning Administrator’s Office
responds to complaints; it does not maintain zoning police
who actively seek out violations. However, some
jurisdictions make sign removal an exception to the rule and
allocate resources to this task. An e-mail inquiry was made
to other jurisdictions about how they handle this problem.
In short, responding jurisdictions pull the signs
(Botetourt, Buenavista, Danville, Front Royal, Lynchburg,
dual jurisdiction over the right-of-ways. David Cubbage with
the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has
informally advised that an arrangement can be reached for
the County to remove signs in the right-of-way. VDOT will
provide safety training and also identify the edge of the
right-of-way along problem streets and intersections. In
addition, State law allows the County to act as agent for
VDOT, remove signs posted in the right-of-way that violate
State law, and keep half of the fines allowed under State
jurisdictions hold the signs for a prescribed period and
inform the putative owners that the jurisdiction has them
and they can reclaim them. Such a practice is courteous,
minimizing the likelihood of repercussions of an erroneous
removal. It also allows the County to establish that
certain companies and company employees take responsibility
for certain signs, a useful fact in subsequent litigation.
bad behavior (illegal posting) is not punished, this manner
of enforcement may degrade into a war of resources with
realtors and builders continually reposting after an
intersection or street is cleared. A response to the
aforementioned e-mail inquiry is illustrative:
“I was pulling them up every Friday at 5:30 (they usually
appeared right after 5:00). Being a small town we only had
about 20 signs each time. I had verbally let each project
manager know that they were not allowed. We had a problem
with the managers changing on a regular basis. After about
six weeks of collections I couldn't take it any more so I
sent a letter threatening to charge them with a misdemeanor
for each sign. They came back asking how much that would
cost, because they "needed" the signs. They no longer put
them up in Town, but they do have them placed on the County
option is to seek an injunction against flagrant violators.
Success should result in a court order prohibiting future
violations. Subsequent violations would be subject to
penalties for contempt of court. A war of resources would
not materialize. The discovery process would also identify
the corporate individual responsible for the posting of
County Code § 13-602 makes illegal posting a misdemeanor
punishable by a fine up to $ 1,000. This tool is difficult
to use because the person posting is rarely observed and
discovery tools in a criminal proceeding are limited.
Presumably, a real estate sign is posted by the company
advertised, but that cannot be determined with certainty.
Misdemeanor prosecutions are probably more effective after a
civil case, having established who is responsible and having
established that the signs were posted by the company. We
could then pursue the company and the responsible
individuals. Even in this booming market, thousand dollar
fines against the individual builders and realtors add up.
escalating enforcement regime would be to write to offenders
reminding them that they may not post in the right-of-way.
Next, the County would conduct a public hearing asking for
citizen input about problem streets and intersections.
Based upon this process, the County would work with VDOT and
start pulling signs.
If the illegal posting of signs continues for three weeks,
the County Attorney would file for an injunction. As part
of discovery, the County would discern the corporate
officials responsible for authorizing sign posting. If
posting continues after an injunction is entered, we seek
contempt of court fines against the corporation and the
responsible corporate entity and/or misdemeanor charges
against the corporation and the corporate official. However,
it needs to be noted that prior to the County Attorney's
Office filing for an injunction, a Zoning Administrator
final determination letter must be sent. The company’s
officials then have 30 days to appeal to the Board of Zoning
Appeals (BZA) and, if filed, the process could take a
considerable amount of time before the signs go away. Even
if an appeal isn't filed, a zoning enforcement injunction
may take several months to obtain. It is typical to expect
at least a year between the Zoning Administrator
determination letter and any type of Show Cause proceeding.
process gives reasonable notice of the violations and change
in enforcement policy. It starts with a mild enforcement
action – removal of signs that may be reclaimed. Only after
several weeks do penalties increase. For the process to be
successful, the Board of Supervisors must commit funds and
resources (trucks and storage) for weekend duty.
highway groups have authority to remove signs as VDOT
agents. VDOT trains these groups in public safety and also
identifies the edge of the public right of way.
alternative enforcement mechanism is to solicit groups along
to adopt problematic roads.