2012-04-25 / News

No resolution on banner advertising rules

Planning Commission to take more time to study policy
By Michael Buettner

Wallin Wallin Chesterfield County’s challenges with temporary signs will have to wait a while longer for a permanent solution.

The Planning Commission last week received a report on proposed changes to the county’s ordinance on advertising banners that were hammered out by a citizen group formed last year to study the issue.

Planning Manager Greg Allen summarized the proposal at the commission’s meeting on April 17. He noted that the Banner Study Group had included individuals whose opinions on the issue were poles apart and that the final recommendations included some carefully crafted compromises.

Under the proposed changes, the county would still require businesses and nonprofits to get a permit before displaying the signs and would continue to limit how many signs could be displayed, and for how many days per year. However, the number of days would be increased for businesses, current size limitations would be raised and penalties would be eased.

But most of the five commissioners said they had strong reservations about at least some aspects of the proposal.

Dale District Commissioner Bill Brown was concerned about a clause that would limit nonprofit groups to one banner at a time. He offered the example of a church that also operates a school and a day-care facility. “What if a nonprofit wants to advertise multiple activities?” he asked.

Midlothian District Commissioner Reuben Waller wondered whether the study group had chosen appropriate localities for comparing policies on banners.

The group had studied policies in Hanover, Henrico and Dinwiddie counties and in Richmond and Colonial Heights for comparisons to Chesterfield’s rules. In particular, the group learned that while Henrico’s rules appeared to be more restrictive than Chesterfield’s, the neighboring county doesn’t actively enforce its policy.

That may be changing, however. Allen noted that “a Chesterfield resident has been complaining in Henrico just to prove a point” about banner advertising laws.

In fact, it was the multiple complaints filed by one Chesterfield resident, Bob Olsen, that sparked Chesterfield’s review of its policy. Olsen was a member of the study group.

Waller said it might have been more realistic to look at other localities that might have more characteristics in common with Chesterfield, especially in Northern Virginia.

Bermuda District Commissioner Dale Patton was dissatisfied with the way the proposal recognizes the need for larger buildings to display larger signs.

The new rules would allow signs with an area equal to 15 percent of the surface of the building up to a maximum of 300 square feet. Patton said 300 square feet would be too small to be readable on some large buildings, such as Bon Secours St. Francis Medical Center, which does display large banners at times.

Matoaca District Commissioner Edgar Wallin found little in the proposal to support. On the whole, he said, “I’m not convinced we need a banner ordinance.”

Wallin worried that any such ordinance would force the county to make unwarranted judgments about business matters. “Basically, I have concerns with us purporting to believe we can write guidelines so specific.”

With support for the proposal clearly absent, the commission agreed to hold another work session on it in three months. In the meantime, the commissioners plan to seek suggestions from county businesses and nonprofits about how best to regulate banners.

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