Board of Supervisors Meeting Date:


Fauquier County Planning Commission


December 9, 2004

Staff Lead:



Kimberley Johnson, Zoning Administrator


Community Development



An Ordinance Adopting a Zoning Ordinance Text Amendment to Article 8, Signs; Section 9-1000, Outdoor Light Control; and Section 15-300, Definitions; to Incorporate Additional Limitations on Outdoor Illumination


Topic Description:


The proposed text amendment offers some refinements to provide clarity and strengthen existing lighting regulations.  These focused, for example, in:  (1) Subjecting car sales lots to light control regulations; (2) Providing better explanation for fixture replacement and the associated requirements; (3) Improving provisions for outdoor lighting of buildings, landscaping, signs, flags, statues and other objects; (4) Strengthening requirements regarding neon signs and other sign illumination limitations; and the (5) Adding graphics to visually assist in explaining Ordinance requirements and intent.


Requested Action of the Board of Supervisors:


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


Financial Impact Analysis:



Summary Staff Report:


Background.  In January 2000, Fauquier County adopted its current lighting provisions as part of the Zoning Ordinance, with amendments addressing outdoor lighting for recreation uses in October 2002.  The new lighting regulations were adopted after an extended process of review by the Planning Commission, and the review process included input from representatives of the Dark-Sky Association regarding reduction of light pollution. 


In its preparation of the existing regulations, the County also used a wide variety of community Ordinances and technical documents prepared, for example, by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) and other similar references.  As a result, the existing standards are fairly stringent, and incorporate the limitations promulgated by Dark-Sky for protection against light pollution.  Most notably, shielding is required on almost all outdoor light fixtures, including a requirement for “full-cutoff” luminaries or optics, which is defined as outdoor lighting that is shielded or constructed so that all light emitted is projected below a horizontal plane running through the light part fixtures.  In addition, light source visibility is required to be shielded from all adjoining property.  Staff notes that the lighting regulations in the County’s Zoning Ordinance are actually presented on the Dark-Sky Association’s web page as a good example of a local lighting Ordinance.


Planning Commission Review.  The Planning Commission initiated the review of existing provisions to determine if additional limitations or standards are appropriate for incorporation to further the goals of protecting the dark skies and controlling light spillover and glare.  Specific issues which have been reviewed are as follows:


Issue 1.           Include foot-candle limits for all uses.

Issue 2.           Parking lot lighting, car sales lot should be specifically mentioned.


The first issue raised by the Planning Commission was to ensure that the regulations include foot-candle limits for all uses.  The Commission specifically noted the need to limit light levels in parking lots and car sales lots.  The current regulations include the following foot candle limits:



Maximum Illumination

Playing fields and recreational areas

Foot candles must be within the parameters recommended by IESNA (Illumination Engineering Society of North America).  Section 9-1006.1.a.(1)

Gasoline Station/ Convenience Store Aprons and Canopies

Limited to minimum of 1.0 foot candles and a maximum of 10 foot candles at grade, with a uniformity ratio no greater than 4:1.  (Section 9-1006.4.d)

Parking lots, loading and display areas

Limited to 2.5 footcandles. (Section 9-1006.5.a)

Spillover light from parking areas

Limited to ½ foot candle at the property line where adjacent to RA/RC or Residential districts. (9-1006.7)


To address the two issues, staff and the Planning Commission recommend that the “Parking lots, loading and display areas” category be expanded and clarified to say “All outdoor areas, including parking lots, loading, sales and display areas.” This action would limit outdoor lighting to 2.5 footcandles in all areas, not just paved areas, and it clearly includes car sales lots.  The BP Convenience Store (formerly Amoco) and automobile dealerships north of Warrenton and the East Coast in Opal have over 80 footcandles of light emitted from under their canopy and parking areas.  The construction of these valued businesses occurred well before the adoption of the 2000 amendments.


Issue 3:   Assure that nonconforming fixtures are brought into compliance with the lighting regulations when they are replaced.


The current language in the Ordinance related to nonconforming fixtures is shown below, with staff and Planning Commission suggested additional language highlighted.  The additional language more clearly defines “replacement,” one of the triggers for upgrading lighting.  The new language is based on the Fairfax County Ordinance. 


9-1007.1          Nonconforming Fixtures.  Outdoor light fixtures installed prior to the effective date of this Article are exempt from the provisions of this Article, provided, however, that no change in use, and no replacement or structural alteration of outdoor light fixtures shall be made unless it thereafter conforms to the provisions of this Article. Replacement of a fixture shall mean a change of fixture type or change to the mounting height or location of a fixture.  Routine lighting fixture maintenance, such as changing lamps or light bulbs, ballast, starter, photo control, housing, lenses and other similar components shall not constitute replacement and shall be permitted provided such changes do not result in a higher lumen output.   


Issue 4:            Lighting of Architectural Features should be limited to the feature only, and should prohibit lighting such as that placed on the roof at the Opal McDonalds.


The current language of the Ordinance states:


9-1006.2          Outdoor Illumination of Building, Landscaping and Signs. The unshielded outdoor illumination of any building or landscaping is prohibited. Lighting fixtures used to illuminate an outdoor advertising sign either shall be by directed ground lighting sign or mounted on the top of the sign, and shall comply with the shielding requirements.


Staff and the Planning Commission recommend the following replacement language.  The underlined revision provides strength and better clarity, and it is based on language from the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance, as well as text from the proposed Town of Warrenton Zoning Ordinance:


9-1006.2          Outdoor lighting of buildings, landscaping, signs, flags, statues and other objects shall consist of full cut-off or directionally shielded lighting fixtures that are aimed and controlled so that the directed light shall be confined to the object intended to be illuminated.  Directional control shields shall be used where necessary to limit stray light.  No light from any illuminated sign shall cause or direct non-reflected light from the fixture to shine onto any adjoining property or public right-of-way.


Staff noted to the Planning Commission that the existing Ordinance already includes language, under the signage provisions, that prohibits the type of lighting placed on the McDonald’s roof in Opal.  Section 8-1000.8 of the Zoning Ordinance prohibits:


8.         Any arrangement of exposed tubing or a series of lights in rows, strings, patterns or designs that outline or are affixed to any portion of a building or structure.  This prohibition does not apply to exposed tubing or lights which are an integral part of an approved sign or sign structure; nor does this prohibition preclude those seasonal displays or decorations as permitted by the provisions of 8-301.19.


Issue 5:            Limit Sign Lighting

Issue 6:            Prohibit Neon Lighting, In Accord with the Town of Warrenton’s Approach


The provisions control exterior lighting of signs and require that such lighting be shielded.  The current Ordinance also contains the following additional limitations on the lighting of signs:


A.        Signs with flashing lights are considered animated signs and are prohibited in all districts. (Sections 8-201.1 and 8-1000.3)


B.         Tube signs—signs with a light source supplied by neon or other gas in tubes bent to form letters—are permitted in the commercial and industrial zoning districts.  (Section 8-201.35).   The Ordinance limits such signs to one per establishment, displayed in the window, with a size limit of 4 sq.ft. (Section 8-1501.2.I)


C.        No sign in the residential or rural districts may be internally illuminated. (Section 8-1401.10)


Neon Signs

Provision B, above, limits neon signs to commercial and industrial zones and further limits such signs to a maximum of one 4 square foot window sign per establishment.  The new Town of Warrenton provisions prohibit external neon signs; the County’s provisions only allow neon window signs, and are thus consistent.  However, staff would recommend adding “Exterior neon signs” to the list of prohibited signs in Section 8-1000, for further clarification on this issue.


Staff would note that other jurisdictions, including the Town of Warrenton, include further limitations on the lighting of signs to reduce impacts, including limiting actual illumination levels of signs, limiting the background color of illuminated signs, and limiting the location of illuminated signs near residential uses.


Recommended Sign Illumination Limitations

Three additional provisions, based on the Town of Warrenton, are suggested for inclusion in the County’s sign Ordinance provisions in order to provide additional control over light emitted from signs:


A.        The average illumination on the face or vertical surface of any sign shall not exceed 1 foot-candle.


B          A sign shall consist of light lettering, symbols and logo on an opaque or dark colored background only.  Light sources internally illuminating signs shall be carefully located, aimed and shielded so that light is directed onto the message only. Shielding shall be accomplished with architectural elements and/or specific lighting components, such as shields or louvers within the sign.  Lettering or symbols shall constitute no more than forty percent of the surface area of the sign.


C.        Illuminated signs shall not be located within 50 feet of a residential or rural zoning district boundary.   Illumination of any advertising sign in a commercial or industrial district located within three hundred (300) feet of any residential or rural district shall be extinguished between the hours of 12:00 midnight and 7:00 a.m. except for any time during that period when the use is allowed to be open for business.


Issue 7:            Require use of Best Available Technology for Lighting and Shielding


The Planning Commission decided not to make a specific recommendation for incorporating language that requires the use of the “best available technology” for lighting as technology changes over time.  The conclusion was that it is difficult to do so in a manner that makes the specific requirements understandable to the public and enforceable by the County.   However, it is noted that the existing Ordinance standards, with requirements for full shielding and full cut-off optics, do provide for a very high level of lighting technology.


Issue 8:            Provide visual examples of requirements where appropriate.


Staff has incorporated a number of illustrations into the regulations.


Other Refinements:  Staff notes that the definitions related to lighting are contained in Article 9 (Performance standards, including lighting) rather than in Article 15 (Definitions).  Staff and the Planning Commission recommended as part of this amendment that the definition section as described be shifted to Article 15.


Public Hearing and Actions:  The Planning Commission held a public hearing on the proposed text amendment on August 26, 2004.  No one spoke during the hearing.  The Planning Commission deferred action and the matter was placed on the September 28, 2004 public hearing agenda.  No action was taken on September 28, since the public hearing agenda was cancelled because of inclement weather. By a unanimous vote, on October 28, 2004, the Planning Commission forwarded the proposed text amendment to the Board of Supervisors with a recommendation it be adopted as revised.


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


Economic Development Office



Proposed Text Amendments