Board of Supervisors Meeting Date:

Raymond E. Graham, Cedar Run District Supervisor


June 12, 2008


Staff Lead:



Andrew Hushour, Assistant Zoning Administrator


Community Development



A Zoning Ordinance Text Amendment to Section 8-1502 to Allow Exceptions and Variations to Sign Regulations in the Commercial and Industrial Districts by Approval of a Special Exception by the Board of Supervisors


Topic Description:

The proposed text amendment allows the Board of Supervisors, through the special exception process, to approve signs in the commercial and industrial districts which do not comply with the signage regulations in Article 8 of the Zoning Ordinance.


Requested Action of the Board of Supervisors:

Conduct a public hearing and consider adoption of the attached Ordinance.


Financial Impact Analysis:

No financial impact analysis has been conducted.


Summary Staff Report: 

Over the past several years, an increasing number of individuals and businesses have raised concerns about perceived limitations, such as the amount and types of signage allowed in a given district, in the existing sign regulations contained in Article 8 of the Zoning Ordinance.  In several recent cases, the Board of Supervisors approved specific text amendments to allow additional signage under specific circumstances.  These cases include: 

-     Culpeper Farmer’s Cooperative, where the limit of 32 square feet of signage for businesses in the rural district was increased to 150 square feet, and also changed to allow an off-premise sign on adjoining property. 

-     Costco, where the limit of 150 square feet of signage total was allowed to be increased through a text amendment allowing additional signage on big box stores with special exception approval by the Board. 

-     Mixed Use portion of Liberty Station, where signage was allowed to be increased through a text amendment allowing an increase in signage in traditional, pedestrian oriented development by approval of a special permit. 

-     An amendment increasing the type and amount of signage to be allowed at Fire Stations. 

Most recently, multiple new sign issues have been raised to staff by business owners, sign companies and Board members.  These cases include: 

-     The Trenis Exxon on Route 28 in Catlett applied to replace two existing “Exxon” canopy signs with two larger “Exxon” canopy signs.  In reviewing the permit, it was discovered that the existing signage on the property already exceeds the amount allowed and, therefore, no permits can be approved for the site.  A question was raised by Supervisor Graham as to whether the existing regulations for gas stations allow adequate signage, since stations typically display fuel prices in addition to identification information and therefore may need more signage than other commercial businesses. 

-     The new Toyota Dealership on Route 29 just north of Warrenton submitted a sign package for an estimated 300-400 square feet of signage, whereas the existing regulations limit the use to 150 square feet, including freestanding signs.   While willing to make some modifications to proposed signage, the owner expressed some concern about the adequacy of the amount of allowable signage given the location, size and nature of the uses and buildings, and the existing signage of surrounding uses.  Interest was expressed in drafting a text amendment to allow the Board to consider additional signage in this case.  

-     An off-site sign advertising sales at Mill Run Business Park located on Route 29 violates Zoning Ordinance provisions.  While off-site directional signs and off-site real estates signs are allowed, they are limited in size and content.  While more signage would be allowed on the actual property, the Mill Run Business Park does not have actual frontage on Route 29, so a sign placed on the property itself would have limited or no visibility. 

-     The Old Dominion Electrical Cooperative is seeking to place an identification sign off-site, on an easement on an adjoining property for the Dominion’s Remington Generating Facility.  The only sign allowed off-site in this instance is a 2 square foot directional sign with the business name and directional arrow.  Old Dominion has indicated that they will seek a text amendment to allow their identification sign to be placed off-site. 

Staff is in agreement that the existing Ordinance regulations regarding signs would benefit from an update since the current regulations were generally adopted in 1981, with certain portions dating back to the 1970’s.   Given the complexity and level of interest in issues relating to signs, revising this portion of the Zoning Ordinance is likely to be a lengthy and challenging task.  It is typical for a jurisdiction to spend years in sign regulation updates given their scope, and staff is currently in the process of shifting priorities to begin an update of these regulations in the near future.   As an interim measure, some flexibility could be introduced into the Ordinance so that the Board could approve modifications from the sign regulations on a case-by-case basis through the special exception process, taking into consideration the unique characteristics of each site.  

On February 14, 2008, the Board initiated a resolution authorizing a proposed text amendment to Section 8-1502 of the Ordinance, to allow exceptions and variations to sign limits in the commercial and industrial districts by approval of a special exception by the Board.  The text amendment provided with the initiation included language modeled after a similar provision in Prince William County, and gave very broad discretion to the Board to approve signs which did not comply with most of the sign regulations in Article 8 of the Zoning Ordinance.  While the language does provide the desired flexibility in allowing additional signage for businesses in these districts, the breadth of scope is such that its application could result in sign proposals that allow amounts and types of signage that go far beyond current Ordinance provisions.  

In conjunction with the initiation, several Board members suggested the authority to waive sign requirements be more tightly defined in the text amendment, in recognition that the waiver process is an interim measure to allow additional accommodations in the commercial and industrial districts rather than an invitation to disregard the framework of the existing regulations.  Concerns were raised that the waiver process could also allow proposals that may not conform to any new standards that are proposed in the future, thereby creating non-conformities and a competitive disadvantage for businesses that attempt to make application for signage under a revised set of provisions. It should also be noted that as non-conformities, signs are uniquely challenging as a land use issue in that their variation often precludes a wholesale corrective measure. Furthermore, the ease of re-facing a non-conforming sign structure makes a natural reduction of these structures, such as through the gradual redevelopment of an area, less likely.  

For these reasons, staff proposed revised language that attempts to balance the scope presented in the Board initiated text with the anticipation of a future revision of Article 8, while still providing the flexibility that is desired.  This revised language allows an increased number and size of signage in the commercial and industrial zoning districts by approval of a special exception, but does not allow signage that is currently specifically prohibited under the ordinance.   In addition, the revised language sets an upper limit on the total amount of additional signage that can be authorized, allowing no more than a doubling of signage.  The Planning Commission held a public hearing on the proposed revised amendment on April 24, 2008, and unanimously recommended denial.


Identify any other Departments, Organizations or Individuals that would be affected by this request:

Department of Economic Development



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