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 Brian Morris, who owns The Tavern restaurant, wants to put up a large banner on a corner of his property.
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Date published: 10/24/2012


Brian Morris says he regularly climbs a ladder to attach a banner to his restaurant in Spotsylvania County.

Morris, who owns The Tavern off Spotsylvania Avenue near Hooters, says he tries to rotate his four 8- by 3-foot banners--which advertise specials such as "Burger Day"--once or twice a week.

He'd prefer to set them up closer to the road, but he learned two years ago that such freestanding signs violate Spotsylvania code.

"So I can trash my building up, but I can't do anything that might actually help me," Morris said. "Visibility is key in this game."

To address concerns like his, the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors on Tuesday directed staff to draft an ordinance that would allow businesses to display up to two banners anywhere on their property.

Planning Commission members and supervisors will have to hold public hearings before adopting any new proposals.

"I like to support businesses, and I don't like us to dictate what you can or cannot advertise with," said Supervisor Timothy McLaughlin, who first asked that the issue be discussed.

Currently, existing businesses like The Tavern can hang permanent banners only from their buildings. Businesses along busy corridors such as State Route 3 and U.S. 1 can't display them at all.

But new or relocated stores can have banners--defined as signs made of lightweight fabric or similar material--anywhere on their property for up to 90 days after opening.

Spotsylvania staff had initially proposed allowing all businesses to display up to two banners anywhere on their property for a total of six months in a calendar year.

But McLaughlin said he doesn't think there should be a time limit. Supervisors decided Tuesday that they will revisit the issue a year after they approve any changes.

Many businesses are putting up banners despite the county's rules. Spotsylvania cites them only if it receives complaints.

Zoning Administrator Troy Tignor said the county has had about 50 reported sign violations this year, and the majority have involved banners.

He described Spotsylvania's enforcement as "business friendly."

Generally speaking, county officials call businesses first and ask them to comply voluntarily, Tignor said. If that doesn't happen, the county will send letters giving businesses two weeks to take down banners.

Morris, the owner of The Tavern, said he approached county officials about two years ago with his plan to display banners on a grassy area near a sidewalk next to Spotsylvania Avenue. That was when he learned he could attach them to his restaurant but couldn't have them anywhere else on his property. His restaurant is about 60 yards from the road.

"Small businesses are having enough trouble as it is between taxes and everything else," Morris said. "We've got to bring some rational thinking back into the whole system."

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402
Email: jbranscome@freelancestar.com

Spotsylvania County isn't the only locality in the area with banner restrictions. Stafford County allows temporary signs advertising sales or events, for seven days to six months.

The city of Fredericksburg allows temporary signs for things such as "grand opening," "under new management" and "going out of businesses." Owners must receive a permit, and can't have signs up more than 20 days.

Neither ordinance restricts placement on business property, but Fredericksburg Zoning Officer Debra Ward said the city prefers that signs be attached to businesses.