Va. County Allows Church to Have Sign; Reconsidering Zoning Rule

A county in Virginia has decided to rescind a zoning violation charge against a United Methodist church over its digital sign displaying more than two messages in a day.

Faifax County decided on Thursday to back off of a notice sent to the Church of the Good Shepherd in Vienna regarding its digital sign, which by having more than two messages on it in a 24-hour period was in violation of a local zoning law.

Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, told The Christian Post that the zoning ordinance regard the benefit of motorists.

"My understanding is that our ordinance attempts to restrict the use of signs that have moving or changing text that could be distracting or startling to motorists," said Bulova.

"I don't believe that is the case with the Good Shepard sign and several of my colleagues have weighed in similarly. Zoning Enforcement has agreed to rescind the Notice of Violation."

The controversy began in July, when Good Shepherd received a notice of violation from Gabriel Zakkak, a Code Compliance investigator with Fairfax.

"It has been the longstanding policy of the Zoning Administrator that any moving (changing) copy sign other than signs displaying time, temperature, weather or environmental conditions, shall be allowed to change messages a maximum of 2 times within a 24 hour period," wrote Zakkak in the notice.

"This changeable copy LED sign is considered a prohibited sign and is prohibited in any zoning district and in any area of the County."

In response to the notice, Good Shepherd filed a suit against Fairfax County in federal court. The result of the suit is still pending. According to local media the Good Shepherd's attorney, Michael York, hopes to reach an out-of-court settlement.

This is not the first time the county has found itself dealing with complaints on LED signs by the roads. Years ago George Mason University erected an LED sign off of Braddock Road, a major street in Fairfax.

"When it first went up, it was much brighter and contained fast-moving text and characters. It is also very large and very close to the road. The surrounding neighborhood and motorists were extremely upset," said Chairman Bulova to CP.

"Unfortunately, Fairfax County had no control over that sign because it is on State/university property and is exempt from the County's Zoning laws. I was the Braddock District Supervisor at the time and was successful in getting the university to voluntarily agree to reduce the brightness and intensity of the sign."

The Church of the Good Shepherd of the United Methodist Church did not return a request for comment by press time.