May 3, 2004


The Albemarle County Architectural Review Board met on Monday, May 3, 2004, 1:30 p.m., Meeting Room # 241, County Office Building, Charlottesville, Virginia.  Those members present were Charles T. Lebo, Candace M.P. Smith, AIA, Chairman and Katie Hobbs.  Absent was M. Kirk Train, AIA, Vice-Chairman.  Staff present was Margaret Maliszewski. 



Ms. Smith called the meeting to order at 1:35 p.m. and established a quorum.




ARB-2004-31: Seminole Place Sign Refacing - Certificate of Appropriateness for a Sign - (Tax Map 061W, Section 3, Parcel 18)


Proposal:  To reface an internally illuminated freestanding sign.


Ms. Maliszewski summarized the staff report as follows. The ARB has conducted no reviews for proposed development on this parcel. The existing development, including the freestanding sign, predates the establishment of EC regulations. The building is located on Route 29 North in the Greenbrier area, which is characterized by a variety of commercial uses and is heavily developed. The existing monument consists of a brick pedestal and two signs – the top one a panel with projecting letters and the bottom one a flat panel. Both signs are internally illuminated.


Sign Type: Double-sided freestanding monument sign – refacing

Location: Existing: near the midpoint of the property along the EC

Overall Sign Height: 7’

Upper Cabinet

Size: 12’ long x 2’4” tall (30sf)

Material: Acrylic panel with vinyl

Text:Seminole Place

Graphics: border (width not provided)

Colors: Blue background (PMS # 2747), white letters and border

Illumination: Existing internal illumination, text and border

Background: blue opaque background

Lower Cabinet:

Size: 7’5 ½” long x 1’6” tall (5sf)

Material: Acrylic panel with vinyl

Text: “Leasing (434) 973-5571”

Graphics: none                                                       

Colors: Daytime: black letters on white background; Nighttime: White letters with non-illuminated background

Illumination: Existing internal illumination, text only

Base:  Existing brick-faced base, no change proposed

Landscaping: Existing landscaping at the base of the sign, no change proposed



·        The sign meets Zoning Ordinance requirements for the area and height.

·        External illumination is preferred for freestanding signs, but the existing sign is already internally illuminated.

·        Regarding the upper cabinet, the proposed blue and white colors of the sign do not clash with the building or the site.

·        The upper cabinet is internally illuminated and would have an opaque background. Although the illustration submitted indicates that only the background would be illuminated, the applicant has indicated that illumination of the border is also proposed. The border is an integral part of the daytime appearance of the sign, but not the nighttime appearance.

·        The location, font style and daytime colors of the lower sign are not closely related to those of the upper sign. Changing the colors of the lower sign to blue letters on a white background, or white letters on a blue background, would increase the level of coordination in the overall sign.


Staff recommends approval of the signs with the following changes:

1.      Only the letters of the upper cabinet shall be illuminated. The background and border shall not be illuminated.

2.      Revise the lower sign to increase the compatibility of its daytime appearance with that of the upper sign.


Ben Foster, owner of Hightech Signs, stated that they were just refacing an existing sign in a fairly unobtrusive way. He asked if staff made the recommendation to leave the border non-illuminated, and indicated that the border is on the sign because it looks better, but if the Board does not want it to look better that was fine because they would take the border off. He clarified that the background of the lower sign is blacked out so that the letters will be white at night and black in the daytime; the background will be white in daytime and black at night.  The top sign is blue and white with a border, which makes the sign look better. At night it would be white with a border because the sign looks better with a border.  But, if the ARB does not like the border, then they will take the border out at night. 


Ms. Smith pointed out that they could have the colors that change when they are lit from day to night, which obviously could be a variety of colors during the day and then become a variety of colors at night.


Mr. Foster stated that was not correct because there is a limited choice of colors.  He noted that you could have the colors so that they will change, but at night the color would always be white.  The reason for that is that the vinyl has perforations and so what you would be seeing coming through at night is the white plexi-glass behind it.


Ms. Smith noted that it was possible on the lower panel to have blue letters during the day to coordinate with the blue background of the upper panel and still be white at night if the sign was in fact illuminated.


Mr. Foster stated that was theoretically correct if he could get that type of vinyl in that color since not all shades are available because it was a fairly new technology.


Ms. Smith pointed out that the ARB would be going into a discussion about the signs and what parts of the sign should be illuminated.  She stated that the border looks great and the entire sign would be fine if externally illuminated, but since the sign was internally illuminated the ARB has concerns.


Mr. Foster stated that the border would not be completely obtrusive because it would be a thin border just as it was illustrated.  The reason that they had put it as black and white at the bottom was the difficulty of getting these different colors that will change.  He pointed out that he was not sure if he could get one that would change from blue to white, and for aesthetic reasons he did not want to have the bottom panel looking identical to the top panel because that does not look as good.  He noted that a little variety is needed in order to make the sign interesting.  He reiterated that he would try to get the blue to white lettering, but he was not sure if he could do that.


Ms. Smith pointed out that might be a moot point after discussion. She thanked him for his comments.  She asked if the ARB had any comments for discussion.


Ms. Hobbs agreed with staff’s recommendations.


Ms. Smith asked if she had any specifics for the lower sign in terms of increasing the amount of compatibility.  She pointed out that they were not designing the sign, but asked if anyone had any suggestions on what the alternatives might be.


Mr. Lebo suggested that the applicant keep the sign compatible with the upper sign if he could change the lower sign to blue lettering. He noted that would add some harmony to the two signs.


Mr. Wright stated that would make the sign look like the previous sign because both panels were white with blue letters and matched.  He noted that is actually what they were now looking for so that both sign panels match with the blue and white letters.    


Ms. Smith pointed out that was just a suggestion in terms of compatibility. She asked if the ARB wanted to discuss the options concerning the illumination.


Mr. Lebo supported illuminating the upper sign as staff has presented it.  He pointed out that he was not sure that he has seen many leasing signs in the area that are illuminated.  He asked Mr. Foster if he was aware of any other leasing signs in the area with a phone number. He stated that this was the first time that he has ever seen something like that.


Mr. Foster noted that he could not think of any at this time.


Mr. Lebo pointed out that if they start doing that with one project, then they would have to start doing that for other shopping centers and other properties for the leasing agents.


Mr. Foster stated that, to answer that question, he has seen that type of sign all over the place in shopping center signs that do have a panel that is illuminated which says to lease call such and such a number. He pointed out that some of the other shopping centers in the area, such as Pantops Shopping Center, have such a sign when they have leasing available, in their illuminated pylon sign.


Mr. Lebo stated that he was a little worried that it would start a precedent, but he was open to hear what the others have to say about it.


Ms. Hobbs agreed with Mr. Lebo on that because it does start a precedent and she would prefer that it would not be there, but particularly that it would not be lit at night.  With that said, she pointed out that she would agree with the staff’s recommendations.


Ms. Smith noted that the staff’s recommendation was for no illumination of the bottom of the sign at all and eliminating the illumination of the border. There are two issues.  One is the color coordination and the other is strictly illumination. She pointed out that if there was a motion that they needed to clarify the conditions.


Ms. Hobbs stated that the condition states that only the letters of the upper cabinet shall be illuminated, but that the background border was not included.


Ms. Maliszewski pointed out that it sounded like there was confusion about what staff was recommending. She clarified that condition 1 refers to the upper cabinet and condition 2 refers to the bottom cabinet.


Ms. Smith pointed out that condition 2 could have a sentence added that says no illumination at all.


Ms. Maliszewski stated that condition 2 could have a number of sentences, but that was not staff’s intent.


Mr. Wright asked if the border being referred to was the very thin white line. He asked if there would be a problem with just illuminating the letters and not the border. He asked if the sign had a border if it would be lit up.


Ms. Smith stated that they could do it either way. They could make it white during the day and totally opaque at night.


Mr. Wright stated that he liked the border on the sign and felt it would be fine if the border was illuminated.  He pointed out that since the border was so thin that it would not create a large illumination. He concurred with all of the other staff recommendations.  


Ms. Smith asked if the consensus was that the bottom panel sign should not be lit at all, but that they should have some color revision to make it more compatible.


Mr. Lebo agreed that the border could be illuminated since it might make the sign look a little better than just bold letters with a little bit of trim.


Ms. Hobbs pointed out if they were going to say that then they need to remember the problems they have had with that sort of thing before and they would have to specify the width of the border. 


Mr. Lebo asked the applicant how wide the border would be.


Mr. Foster stated that he was not sure but it would probably be 3/4 inch in width.


Ms. Smith stated that the ARB had seen a 1/2 inch border and it was very bright, and therefore they preferred ¼ inch or 1/8 inch.


Ms. Hobbs agreed that ½ inch border was a lot of light, which was why she was reluctant to do it all because then they have to start dealing with the enforcement. 


Mr. Wright stated that a 1/2 inch border would be fine.


Ms. Maliszewski stated that staff recommends the border to be no larger than 1/8 inch in width.


Mr. Lebo moved for approval of the proposal as presented, with the following conditions to be administratively approved by staff:

  1. The letters of the upper cabinet may be illuminated. 
  2. The white border on the upper sign can be illuminated at night provided that the border is no larger than 1/8 inch in width.
  3. Revise the lower sign to increase the compatibility of its daytime appearance with that of the upper sign.


Ms. Hobbs seconded the motion.


Ms. Maliszewski stated that it sounded like they were talking about not illuminating the lower panel.


Mr. Lebo stated that was correct, but he thought that was included in her recommendations.


Ms. Maliszewski suggested that they add that in because it was not included.


Mr. Lebo amended his motion to clarify that the lower panel shall not be internally illuminated, but it may be externally illuminated.


  1. The letters of the upper cabinet may be illuminated. 
  2. The white border on the upper sign can be illuminated at night provided that the border is no larger than 1/8 inch in width.
  3. Revise the lower sign to increase the compatibility of its daytime appearance with that of the upper sign.
  4. The lower panel shall not be internally illuminated, but it may be externally illuminated.


Ms. Hobbs seconded the amended motion.


The motion carried (4:0).  (Train – Absent)


Mr. Foster asked if he could make a comment. He stated that when the ARB makes a ruling that he thought that there should be a reason. He pointed out that he might have missed something, but he was not sure. He asked if they would tell him what the reasoning was behind not illuminating the lower panel because they don’t wish to have the panel visible at night or they don’t want the message readable at night. He stated that he was merely asking for an explanation of the ARB’s ruling.


Ms. Smith stated that she would make one comment and then have to leave it at that. She stated that they would be in favor of it being visible at night if it was externally illuminated. Internal illumination affects the community. She pointed out that they felt that the signs should have limited illumination as channel letters, which are better than cabinet signs, and that you can still identify the business and identify what the purpose is, but it is not acting as a billboard, which is an effect that they are definitely trying to avoid in the County.


Mr. Foster asked if it had some other lettering on it if it would be allowable.


Ms. Smith stated that was a very interesting question and they could certainly add that to their agenda because they have not allowed illumination of additional portions of signs that refer to things like “also serving coffee and biscuits”.  They feel that the identification of a business is critical, but the additional words, if they are important enough to the owner to be visible at night, should be done on an externally illuminated basis.


Mr. Foster asked if those additional comments are alright during the day, but not admissible at night.


Ms. Smith stated that it was the internal illumination that they were concerned about.


Mr. Foster thanked her for the comments since he just wanted to be clear on it.


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