Countywide

County officials propose guidelines for allowing bigger and brighter signs

A sign for Graham Park Plaza in West Falls Church (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County is looking into adjusting its signage rules to allow for brighter and bigger electronic signs.

Casey Judge with the county’s Zoning Administration Division presented the proposed changes during a Board of Supervisors land use policy committee meeting on May 16.

The changes include increasing the maximum brightness for nonresidential districts to 300 nits (a unit that measures the brightness a sign is emitting) at sunset. Current regulations require electronic signs to automatically dim to 40-100 nits at sunset.

The changes also includes requiring sign permit applicants to submit sign specifications.

In addition, the three existing application processes that the county currently has for nonresidential areas could be consolidated into one process.

“This does mean that all sign applications would go to the board for approval rather than the current [comprehensive sign plans],” which only need to be approved by the Fairfax County Planning Commission, Judge said.

Proposed modifications for electronic display signs with special exceptions include increasing the number, height, and size of freestanding signs, allowing building-mounted electronic display signs, and increasing the brightness to 600 nits.

Last May, while discussing the matter, county staff told the committee that the existing rules are old and that businesses wanted to be more competitive. Judge also suggested that easing the application process could be helpful to businesses.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, the committee’s vice chair, questioned how the county is handling the convergence of “what’s a sign and what’s a display.”

“These things that we have traditionally dealt with as signs are being used in other means, or for other purposes,” Alcorn said.

Judge said a standard has been added that focuses on traffic safety and overall placemaking effects as part of the electronic display signs.

“I do hope that that standard can help guide our staff when they’re making that analysis to ensure that we’re looking at size and location, more so than the content in making our recommendations,” Judge said.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw questioned the proposed increase from 100 to 300 nits, which he called pretty significant.

“That’s really in response to research looking at other jurisdictions that have much higher nit level limitations and it allows for those higher definition screens that we’re seeing,” Judge answered.

Judge said the county is seeking authorization and public hearings later this year.