Board of Supervisors Meeting Date:

William G. Downey, Scott District Supervisor


December 13, 2007


Staff Lead:



Kimberley Johnson, Zoning Administrator


Community Development



A Resolution to Initiate a Zoning Ordinance Text Amendment to Section 8-1401 to Increase Identification Sign Limits in the Rural and Residential Zones


Topic Description:

The proposed text amendment seeks to increase the amount and type of signage allowed for non-residential uses in the rural and residential districts in order to allow Fire Stations to have more signage and utilize “bulletin board” type signs.


Requested Action of the Board of Supervisors:

Consider adoption of the attached resolution.


Financial Impact Analysis:

No financial impact analysis has been conducted.


Staff Report:


The Zoning Administrator cited the New Baltimore Volunteer Fire Company for having a portable “Bulletin Board” type sign on its property in September 2007, asking that it be removed. The sign violated numerous provisions of the Zoning Ordinance: 1) no sign permit had been issued, 2) the sign exceeded the size allowed; 3) the sign included content that is not allowed (goes beyond identification), and 4) the sign is located at least partially within the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) right-of-way.   The citation created significant concern with the New Baltimore Company as well as other Fire Companies, because they rely on such signs to announce activities they sponsor as well as utilizing them for public service announcements (i.e., the recent “burn ban lifted.”).  In recognition of the importance of the signage to the Fire Companies, Supervisor Downey asked staff to work on a text amendment that would allow such “bulletin board” type signs at Fire Stations.


The Zoning Ordinance currently establishes a general standard of a maximum of 32 square feet of signage for non-residential uses located in the rural and residential zoning districts, with multiple signs allowed so long as the total square footage does not exceed the 32 square feet. The rules further limit the signage to displaying only the name and use.  Three specific uses are given additional flexibility:

1.   Farms may have a total of 50 square feet of signage, provided no single sign exceeds the 32 square foot limit, and farm signs may include content advertising the products of the farm.

2.   Churches may have one sign for each frontage, with a maximum of 50 square feet in total signage and a maximum of 32 square feet for any individual signs, and may display additional information (i.e., activities) on a “bulletin board” type sign.

3.   A Farm Supply Establishment located on a major arterial may have up to 150 square feet of signage with approval of a special permit where it can be demonstrated the signage is needed for safety reasons.

Fire stations located in rural and residential zoning districts have no special requirements and are therefore subject to the general limit of 32 square feet, which can be allocated amongst multiple signs.

These current regulations reflect a loosening of limitations in the 26 years since the current Zoning Ordinance was adopted.  The 1981 Zoning Ordinance limited signage to 20 square feet, including Churches and Farm Uses.   The regulations were amended in 1995 because P.B. Smith School was seeking a sign up to 32 square feet in size.  The record for the 1995 amendment reflects that consideration was also given to allowing more than just identification information on such signs, but the ultimate approval retained the restriction on displaying only the name and use.   The additional flexibility given to Farm Supply Establishments was approved in 2007, in response to signage concerns for the Culpeper Farmers Cooperative on Route 17.

New Baltimore Volunteer Fire Station Signage

Staff has estimated the following signage exists at the New Baltimore Fire Station:

            Building Sign                          25 sq. ft. (estimated)                         

            Monument Sign                      20 sq. ft.                                

            Portable Bulletin Sign             60 sq. ft.                                

             Total Estimated:                      105 sq. ft.

County records reflect that the Monument Sign was issued a sign permit in 1986.  At that time, it was the only sign on the property and, at 20 square feet, was the maximum allowed.  Staff finds no record of other sign permits for the use.  


The current regulations clearly do not allow the specific New Baltimore Fire Station bulletin board sign in this case because it is 1) too large, 2) has content that is not allowed (goes beyond identification), and 3) is located at least partially within the VDOT right-of-way.  The County does not have the authority to authorize signs in the VDOT right-of-way, therefore even if the regulations are changed to accommodate the sign it will have to be relocated outside of the right-of-way.  To otherwise accommodate the existing New Baltimore sign, the following changes must be made to the existing regulations:

1.   the type of signage allowed must be changed to allow more information than only identification information; and

2.   the amount of signage allowed must be increased from 32 square feet to at least 105 square feet.

Change In Content

Identification signs for businesses and institutions are currently limited by the provisions of the Zoning Ordinance to only displaying “name and use.”   Only farms and churches are given explicit permission to add additional content to signage: churches signs may have “bulletin boards” for announcements, and farm signs may advertise specific products.  This limitation is problematic, not only for fire stations, but also for other public or quasi-public uses located in rural and residential districts (i.e., schools) which also typically have “bulletin board” type signage to display activities and announcements.   And, in fact, schools have historically been allowed to have “bulletin boards” as part of their signage despite the existing language of the ordinance.  Therefore, staff recommends that the existing language be changed to allow the additional content for not just fire stations but all public uses, as follows:

3.   Identification Signs:

A.  Signage, not exceeding thirty two (32) square feet in area, for the purpose of showing the name and use of any lawful, non residential use within these districts for which other signage standards are not specifically set forth, when such signage is erected or displayed on the property.  In addition to displaying name and use, signage for public uses and schools, whether public or private, may also display information about activities and announcements.   Home occupations are not such uses qualifying under this subsection.  One sign not exceeding two (2) square feet in area shall be permitted for each single family home.  Height not to exceed ten (10) feet.

Increase in Size

The amount of signage allowed would have to be significantly increased, from the current 32 square feet to at least 105 square feet, in order to accommodate the existing announcement sign at the New Baltimore Fire Station.   Staff is unclear at this time as to whether the 105 square feet would be sufficient to legalize signage at all fire stations, and has begun the process of inventorying the existing signage at those stations.  As the text amendment proceeds through the review process, that square footage may need to be adjusted to respond to the existing situation at other fire stations. 

Staff has some concerns that increasing the amount of signage allowed for fire stations to 105 feet may be excessive for rural and residential areas and is inconsistent with the signage allowed for other public and quasi-public uses, which are restricted to 32 to 50 feet.   Both schools and churches have demonstrated over the years that a “bulletin board” type sign can be accommodated within the existing 32 to 50 square foot limit.   For example, the new Auburn Middle School was permitted for two 16 square foot signs, each of which incorporated a “bulletin board” for announcements.  If the Planning Commission and/or Board of Supervisors has concerns about increasing the amount of signage to 105 feet, staff has prepared an alternative amendment which would limit fire stations to 32 square feet but would legalize existing situations, making them non-conforming and requiring them to be replaced with conforming signs at new fire stations and within five years at existing fire stations.   This approach would allow fire companies to continue to utilize their existing signs for as along as five years (or other period established by the Board in the ordinance) while making sure that new signs are more consistent with the residential neighborhoods around them.  Staff has presented both approaches for the Board’s consideration, with the language for each shown below:

Alternative 1:  Increase signage to 105 square feet

C.        Notwithstanding the limitations set forth in 3A, above, any Fire Station shall be permitted a total of 105 square feet of signage.

Alternative 2:  Keep signage at 32 square feet but temporarily allow excess signage

C.        Notwithstanding the limitations set forth in 3A, above, any Fire Station with existing signage exceeding the 32 square foot limit as of December 1, 2007, whether or not legally permitted by the County, shall be allowed the additional signage until December 1, 2012 except that all signage shall be brought into conformance at such time as any new sign for a fire station is permitted by the County for such fire station.


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

Fire Companies


1.   Resolution Alternative 1

2.   Resolution Alternative 2

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