Arlington County Adopts New Sign Regulations

  • Streamlines sign approval process for businesses
  • Clearly delineates limited use of public right of way
  • Provides flexibility in sign types, placement

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Arlington County Board today adopted revisions to the Zoning Ordinance's sign regulations that will make the County's sign regulations easier to understand, set clear standards and allow administrative approvals for most sign requests.

“These new regulations modernize the County's Sign Ordinance,” said Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes. “They make it easier for all to understand, and offer more flexibility in the types of signs and their placement. This was truly a community effort — we thank the many business owners and residents — as well as the Zoning Committee of the Planning Commission — who gave so much time and thought to crafting rules that will both help businesses and protect the community.”

The revisions are the result of an eighteen-month process that involved many residents and business owners.

The Board voted unanimously to approve the new regulations.

Highlights from the proposed amendments include:

Make it easier for small businesses to get signs approved, by providing:

  • New format and organization to let the applicant know what types of signs are allowed, based on the zoning district where the sign is being installed.
  • Increased flexibility in number and placement of signs and sign types to encourage creativity and provide more options in the variety of signs, the technology used to power them, and their placement.
  • Administrative review for most sign requests to provide clear standards and to streamline processes.
  • New format and organization to let the applicant know what types of signs are allowed based on the zoning district where the sign is being installed.

New standards for:

  • When architectural lighting would not be regulated as a sign to distinguish between an architectural embellishment and an advertisement.
  • Illumination levels to regulate lit signs and to mitigate potential impacts of light intensity on surrounding residential areas.
  • Allowances for signs in the public right-of-way to accommodate announcements of community events that occur during the week and outside of government election cycles. The Board asked staff to continue to work with the Civic Federation and civic groups to explore whether any adjustments to the ordinance are needed to support their communication efforts.

Facilitation of sign approvals for development projects, including:

  • Regulations for temporary signs for construction, sale and leasing to facilitate banners with project-related information that provide screening on the fencing around construction sites.
  • Flexibility for sign plans previously approved by the County Board to provide applicants with administrative options to update approved sign plans and accommodate changes to tenants and other sign updates within a development. Signs previously approved by the County Board are grandfathered.
  • Standards for signs placed above a height of 40 feet to increase predictability of the size and locations of signs placed at the tops of buildings. The Board imposed additional limitations on roofline signs that face the National Mall and other national lands, limiting the hours of illumination to 8 am -10 pm and allowing only one sign per façade. In addition, the Board reduced the luminence of roofline signs within 100 feet of highrise residences.

Community Outreach

The community outreach process for the project engaged hundreds of community members and diverse groups of stakeholders at various stages with different ways to participate, either by attending public workshops, informal focus group discussions, or advisory group and commission meetings. The public had opportunities to discuss their concerns and review three drafts of the suggested recommendations before the final proposal came before the County Board. Throughout the process, the Zoning Committee of the Planning Commission worked closely with staff and provided a forum for discussion of the implications of proposed changes.

While the County solicited feedback on the proposed regulations, County zoning staff continued the public information campaign, to educate the public on signs allowed under the current sign ordinance. For information on the current sign regulations, visit the Building Arlington website.


The proposal to amend the sign regulations, part of Arlington County's Zoning Ordinance, started when the County Board accepted a two-year work plan in December 2010, with the public process starting in January 2011 for the update of the sign regulations in Phase I. Phase II will focus on technical edits to reformat the remainder of the Zoning Ordinance to a more user-friendly format, which may include some minor policy revisions.

The review of the sign regulations is part of the County Board Chairman's Small Business Initiative, led by then-Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman, to address concerns from the business community on the regulation of signs and the approval process for getting a sign.

To learn more, visit the County website to read the staff report (Item 50 on the July 24, 2012 Recessed Meeting), or watch the video of the meeting.

Arlington Va., is a world-class residential, business and tourist location that was originally part of the “10 miles square” parcel of land surveyed in 1791 to be the Nation's Capital. Slightly smaller than 26 square miles, it is the geographically smallest self-governing county in the United States, and one of only a handful with the prized Aaa/AAA/AAA bond rating. Arlington maintains a rich variety of stable neighborhoods and quality schools, and has received numerous awards for Smart Growth and transit-oriented development. Home to some of the most influential organizations in the world — including the Pentagon — Arlington stands out as one of America's preeminent places to live, visit and do business.