Photo: Steve Thurston
The county’s zoning enforcers have given more than 130 pamphlets and letters to business owners and managers whose sidewalk signs, the enforcers believe, are illegal. The pamphlets are part of the stepped-up enforcement of the new sign ordinance the county board approved last December.
Numbers provided to the Arlington Mercury show that the county by early May had handed out 139 pamphlets and a handful of follow-up letters (see our map Update, 9:45a.m. June 1: the map link is fixed; sorry for the trouble. --Editor). The materials are informational only. This is a campaign to educate owners and managers. Yet companies that do not follow the rules outlined on those pages may find themselves cited and facing fines up to $1,000. No citations have yet been issued.
Most business owners interviewed for this story throughout the winter and spring were either unhappy about it or--more likely--had no idea that the ordinance even existed.
"It's my property, I should be able to put it [a sidewalk sign] where I want," said the Arlington Rooftop Bar and Grill Vice President Shama LeFevre. Her restaurant was given a pamphlet that no one in her establishment read, she said, adding that the the restaurant’s sign does not change positions very often and isn't blocking any walkways.
The ordinance passed in December is actually much more liberal than previously, when sidewalk signs were altogether illegal. However owners might be facing enforcement for the first time. At their December meeting, the county board instructed the zoning department to begin a more thorough enforcement. At that time, the board and county staff agreed to focus on information rather than citation. In two weeks, the county will conduct a six-month review of the ordinance.
Morou Ouattara, a star chef and owner of Kora in Crystal City, said he was familiar with the new ordinance and was happy that he could now use a sidewalk sign to advertise happy hour food and drink specials.
He said he left his sign in strorage until the ordinance passed.
The ordinance says that the signs must be “A-frame” or sandwich board style, no more than two feet wide and 3.5 feet tall. They must be placed at the wall of the building or in the landscape strip of the sidewalk at least a foot from the curb. With the sign in place, the sidewalk must still have at least a six-foot wide, clear travel lane.