Supervisors set new rules on temporary political signs

After more than a year of debate, county supervisors have voted unanimously on new rules for temporary political signs as the county and the state begin gearing up for November’s elections.

Under the new rules, adopted last month, Loudoun County residents can have as many signs as they want up to 32-square-feet in size for up to 120 days. Residents will still need to obtain a permit from the county’s zoning administrator before they erect any signs.

The county was forced to craft new guidelines on temporary political signs because its zoning ordinance did not comply with guidance from the Virginia attorney general and the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a case in Arizona that temporary signs cannot be regulated differently than others based on the content of the sign.

Despite a unanimous decision on the new rules from board’s Transportation and Land Use Committee (TLUC), county staff had voiced concern about the “unintended consequences” of allowing residents to have an unlimited number of political signs on a property.

Staff proposed limiting the number of signs and putting restrictions on their total square footage out of fear that allowing every property in the county to have an unlimited number of 32-square-foot signs had the potential to result in “aesthetic and safety consequences.”

Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) pointed out that limitations on the number and size of signs could threaten resident’s Constitutional rights.

“When I look at … how a passionate voter would react if the county came in and said, ‘I’m sorry, but you’re only allowed to have eight signs, or some other limit,’ I can only imagine the absolute fury that that voter would feel at having his or her First Amendment rights curtailed like that,” Umstattd said.

“We cannot put eliminating clutter above the First Amendment,” she added.But other supervisors, like staff, said they were also concerned about the issues unlimited political signs on a property could pose.

“I think there’s a lot of unintended consequences in what we’re doing here, and that’s why I think there are merits to what TLUC did and there are merits to what I think staff did,” Vice Chairman Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) said. “I really think the right solution is a blend of the two [recommendations].”

Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) argued that county residents would ultimately use common sense and not blanket their yards with political signs.

“I think we are confusing the law with common sense,” Randall said. “Most voters don’t know that there’s been any ordinance whatsoever about political signs all this time anyway, and most voters have been putting up the signs in their yards that they want to put up unless their [homeowner’s association] tells them not to do. It is a very, very rare person that’s going to blanket their yard with any type of signs.”

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