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Sign ordinance update tackling longstanding sign complaints from Alexandria businesses

Sur La Table is reopening at 326 King Street. (staff photo by James Cullum)

It’s not uncommon to hear business owners in Alexandria lament that local sign ordinances can be onerous and unwieldy, but an update to an ordinance could be a sign that things are changing.

Eight years after the last update to the sign ordinance, the City of Alexandria is taking another crack at it.

The new sign ordinance update aims to improve the organization, clarity and consistency of how the city handles signage, as well as offering a little more regulatory flexibility.

Notably, digital signs and A-frame signs are currently prohibited unless approved by a special use permit, like the sign at The Birchmere.

For digital signs, city staff said at a meeting yesterday (Monday) that the city should consider things like aesthetics and safety in considering whether or not to allow digital signs, but also that “they’re able to communicate more information than the typical changeable copy signs.”

Regulatory limitations being considered include:

  • No effects, flashing or moving of individual images
  • Frequency image on screen can change
  • If freestanding, required to be a monument sign

Staff also said A-frame signs in the public right of way have also been a topic of discussion from businesses.

The current zoning ordinance does not allow A-frames in the public right of way, but the city could also consider issues of clutter, safety and accessibility in determining whether or not they should be allowed.

Some regulatory limitations proposed for A-frame signs include:

  • Clearly defined pedestrian walkways
  • Maximum distance from storefront
  • Display hours
  • Quality of materials
  • Liability insurance

Lastly, staff said painted wall signs and murals have also been discussed. Painted murals currently count against wall signage allotment, but that could change.

Staff said the murals create and aesthetic benefit — highlighting artwork at local yarn store fibre space as an example of beautifully done artwork contributing to the neighborhood — but there are concerns about legal issues around regulating the content of what can be painted.

Staff said there could be restrictions on what buildings can be painted — always a guaranteed brawl at the Board of Architectural Review — and a limit set on the maximum size of the mural.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a work session on the sign ordinance update on Thursday, April 4, at 7 p.m.

Another community meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 29, at 6 p.m. in City Hall, then the ordinance will go to the Planning Commission and City Council for public hearings in June.

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