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September 6, 2016

Warrenton to enforce sandwich board regulations

Photos/Cassandra Brown
Warrenton’s zoning ordinance permits sandwich board signs up to 9 square feet.
Merchants say the signs help them attract attention.
A sandwich board must leave at least 4 feet of sidewalk open.
I believe that the sandwich boards signs, in general, are appropriate in the historic district, but some may not comply as they are presently displayed.
— James “J” Tucker, Warrenton Architectural Review Board member
Sandwich Boards
• What: About two dozen sidewalk signs in downtown Warrenton.

• Requirements: Architectural Review Board certificates of appropriateness and zoning permits.

• Limitations: No more than 9 square feet, made of wood, no lighting, less than 8 feet tall and others.

• Permit fee: $30, plus $2.50 per square feet.

• The issue: Merchants have used them for decades without town approval.

• Grace period: Merchants have until year’s end to comply; those who do so before November will avoid fees.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
About two dozen signs in downtown Warrenton fail to comply with the zoning ordinance.

For decades, merchants have placed “sandwich boards” along the sidewalks — without obtaining permits.

But, Warrenton officials never have enforced the requirement for zoning approval to place those signs, which also need Architectural Review Board approval.

Town officials began to focus on the issue in late July, after the ARB told Nationwide Insurance agency owner Melissa Hutcheson that she must remove her hanging sign at 81 Main St. The sign, made of composite — not wood, fails to comply with historic district guides.

Ms. Hutcheson filed a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request to see town permits for 20 downtown sandwich boards. Those permits don’t exist.

Town Manager Brannon Godfrey and his staff propose a three-month “grace period” that would allow the sandwich board owners to come into compliance. Those who do so in the first month would get permits without cost.

“The town determined that none of the sandwich boards have permits,” interim Planning Director Denise Harris said. “So, now we need to address this . . . . And, we want to address it in a way that supports the town’s goals of walkability in a business friendly environment.”

To place a sandwich board, the town requires:

• A permit that the zoning administrator grants.

• At least 4 feet of clear sidewalk width and no interference with people getting in or out of vehicles.

• Construction of wood — not metal or plastic.

• Height of less than 8 feet.

• No lighting.

• Use only during business hours.

• A maximum surface of 9 square feet per side, no more than 3 feet by 3 feet.

ARB Chairman Melissa Wiedenfeld will appoint a group to review sandwich board standards and make recommendations that comply with the historic guidelines and zoning ordinance, Ms. Harris said. The group will include ARB members, businesses owners and landlords.

The ARB then will review those guidelines at its Sept. 22 meeting.

“The ARB appears to have purview of appropriateness for colors . . . that are not florescent or bold,” said board member James “J” Tucker, a Warrenton architect. “The ARB does not dictate color. It simply reviews colors and approves or disapproves what the applicant submits.

“I believe that the sandwich boards signs, in general, are appropriate in the historic district, but some may not comply as they are presently displayed.”

Business owners will get the design guidelines as options. Each applicant who meets the standards can apply for a certificate of appropriateness at the October ARB meeting and avoid the sign permit fees.

“The extent of the ARB’s purview is limited to the review of both the material and colors,” Mr. Tucker said. “All other aspects of sandwich board signs are managed by the zoning ordinance.”

The board and town officials simply want to ensure signs “that are appropriate to the historic district,” he added.

A business owner still could seek a certificate of appropriateness from the ARB in November or December and get approval during the “grace period.” But, those who miss the October meeting must pay the permit fees. Sign permits cost $30, plus $2.50 for each square foot. So, a 9-square-foot sandwich board permit would cost $52.50.

“I’ve been here 22 years, and there has never been a problem with sandwich board signs,” said David Hartman, who owns a Main Street jewelry shop.

Mr. Hartman’s shop has a wooden sign with a chalkboard face. Although he can’t tell whether his sandwich board has drawn business, the jeweler believes the sidewalk signs have helped others.

“I think the advantages of a sandwich board is it is inexpensive advertising for a small business, rather than spending lots of money in a publication,” said Mr. Hartman.

“I think the town should do a better job of communicating with businesses,” he added.

New Baltimore resident Greg Burns, who visited downtown last week, expressed no objection to the sidewalk signs.

“Some of them have special sayings or drawings,” Mr. Burns said. “Some of them grab my attention and, if so, I might stop in.

“It’s more of a welcoming thing to see them, a hometown thing.”

Black Bear Bistro & Brick Oven owner Todd Eisenhauer regards his sandwich board as valuable advertising space.

“For me, it’s just letting consumers know what we have before they walk in the door,” Mr. Eisenhauer said. “It’s an eye-catcher.”

He uses the sign to advertise things customers might not normally see, such as pet-friendly patio seating and Sunday brunch.

“We’ve always had a sandwich board sign,” said the chef, in business on Main Street since 2009.

Brandon Yost, a tourist from Iowa said, “I think it helps when walking down the street, because you won’t be looking up at the (wall or hanging) signs, and they help you know the business is there.”

Latitudes Fair Trade Store owner Lee Owsley said it makes sense for Warrenton to enforce the sign ordinance.

“I think it will make the town more aesthetically pleasing,” Ms. Owsley said.

Sign regulations brochure:

Town of Warrenton Sign Regulations by Fauquier Now on Scribd

Warrenton Sign Ordinance

Warrenton Zoning Ordinance: Article 6 Sign Regulations by Fauquier Now on Scribd

Historic District Guidelines

Warrenton Historic District Guidelines by Fauquier Now on Scribd

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R Anderson · September 9, 2016 at 11:05 pm
Ridiculous over-regulation of something that is not a problem. As others here stated, the signs provide a homey, small-town feel that adds to Warrenton's charm.
Tell It Like It Is · September 8, 2016 at 4:58 pm
Your point is observed on the 3/5ths of a person but that is an entirely different subject. Nonetheless the Town weighs color on buildings as well as construction materials in the Histerical district and yet some think the old town merchants are above the code? Seriously? No.
RRidgell · September 7, 2016 at 6:56 pm
@Tell It Like It Is - This is the worst argument I've seen people thrown in desperation. At one time the rule in country said that certain people were three fifths of a person. People obviously thought that rule was wrong and fought to change it. The point being, just because a rule is made, doesn't make it right. My argument isn't for selective enforcement, its for overturning a rule that serves no purpose.

Making rules to maintain flow on the sidewalks for ADA purposes and limiting overall size is reasonable, getting into fonts and colors is a bit of a reach, getting into construction materials is a gross overstep.
Tell It Like It Is · September 7, 2016 at 5:38 pm
Why does it seem that the only ones that have problems with "rules" are those that think they do not always apply to them?
Go read the signage code. Be glad you got away with it as long as you did. Now it's time to get over it.
martinkus · September 7, 2016 at 3:52 pm
Fascist local government.
TooTrue · September 7, 2016 at 3:33 pm
RRidgell is right about it being a total waste of government resources and clearly it is not business friendly. The management must have better things to do than trouble the business owners that are just trying to make a living. Robinhooded is also right about the Town Manager and Planning Director getting an "F".
Tell It Like It Is · September 7, 2016 at 8:19 am
The rules are the rules and everyone should comply. No whining.
RRidgell · September 7, 2016 at 8:01 am
What a complete waste of government resources. The statement, "in a way that supports the town’s goals of walkability in a business friendly environment", is laughable. These kinds of regulations are unrealistic and stink to high heaven of burdensome government interference.

I'd also like to add that the signs in question including the chalk-board are technically made of wood, and a cleaver person might realize that the signs are already generally in compliance. If I was one of the affected business owners I would also take a good hard look at the Code of VA requirements and other applicable code standards that the Town is relying on to enforce these measures.

It is common sense to realize these are simply non-permanent signs, they improve the small town feel of main street. For those that think this impacts the aesthetics of Old Towne, I'd ask them to reexamine their position. Consider the shallowness of your position and then weigh that against the need for businesses to advertise and attract customers to stay in business and pay taxes.
robbinnhoodd · September 7, 2016 at 7:55 am
The Town Council needs to step in quickly on this matter because the Town staff and ARB are setting us back another 100 years. Go to Culpeper or any of the other small historic towns that are vibrant and ask them to come to Warrenton and open a store. Listen for what there answer is as to why they would NEVER do it. Town Manager and the Planning Department get an 'F' on this one.
graybeard · September 6, 2016 at 8:13 pm
Man, this wins the prize of having nothing better to do. So we bust the chops of shop owners over "sandwich boards". I get the 4 ft clearance --- I use a wheelchair. But the rest of these "regulations?" Wow ---
Silii · September 6, 2016 at 6:10 pm
Here's to you folks who think the federal government is all over every aspect of our daily lives and making a living. I vote for local and state governments being the bad guys setting up unbelievable barriers to independent business owners simply trying to run a business and make a living. What, exactly, is the advantage of signs being made of wood instead of composite? Why are there so many specifications on other signs? No wonder merchants on Main Street have such a hard time. Is it possible for the Town Council to do something reasonable that will actually help businesses?
MissB · September 6, 2016 at 3:03 pm
I like seeing the chalkboard signs - especially when there is something creative on them to make me smile. They give a sense of friendly community.
citizen observer · September 6, 2016 at 2:44 pm
This increasingly dysfunctional town is worried about sandwich signs but has given up any semblance of parking enforcement. Cars now park for hours in the 5-minute spots in front of the Post Office with no worries.
It doesn't really matter anyway. When the new Town Center is built with shops, restaurants, and apartments; their won't be anyone on Main Street worried about signs.
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