Walk up to Magnolia Guitar in south Arlington, and there's likely to see a visible sign announcing the business. Owner Dan Magnolia says installing it involved multiple trips to the county government center, sometimes he was there several times a day.
"At that point, almost when I was ready to leave, certificate in hand, they told me, 'Oh, and by the way, don't forget to stop by the building permit desk when you leave,' and I was like, 'Really, because I'm not building anything,'" Magnolia says.
Really. He needed a building permit too. That meant more time, and more money.
"Every day that I wasn't open was a day that I wasn't making money," he says. "And by that point I had already gotten the lease so I could be in there. But without the signs, it's kind of silly."
Arlington County has a tenuous relationship with signs. Several years ago, a business owner sued the county after authorities forced the operation to cover a mural with a tarp. That case is still on appeal. Meanwhile, the county board recently approved the use of sandwich board A-frame signs, and the use of text on umbrellas in outdoor dining areas.
"Arlington's goal, really, has been to balance adequate notice that a business is there against this kind of confusion that comes with an overabundance of signs," says Planning Director Bob Brosnan.
In the next few months, the county will launch a new web portal so business owners will have a better idea of how the process works. County board members will consider what kinds of signs should appear along the roadside. Meanwhile, neighborhood advocates are prepared to fight to make sure elected officials have oversight over the process.
"They like the fact that they can go to the county board and complain about something and have themselves heard. On the other end of the spectrum is the business community, who fear that flexibility will be taken away from them."
A vote on the new sign ordinance is expected in July.
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