COUNTY OF ALBEMARLE

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

AGENDA TITLE

Removal of Signs in VDOT Right of Way

 

SUBJECT/PROPOSAL/REQUEST

Results of Pilot Program to Remove Signs in VDOT Right of Way

 

STAFF CONTACT(S):

Messrs. Tucker, Foley, Davis, Kamptner, Graham,

Ms. McCulley and Ms. Wyatt

 

 

LEGAL REVIEW:   Yes

AGENDA DATE

February 1, 2006

 

ACTION:   X                              INFORMATION:

 

CONSENT AGENDA:         

     ACTION:                               INFORMATION:

 

 

ATTACHMENTS:  Yes      

 

 

REVIEWED BY

 

 

BACKGROUND: 

This executive summary outlines the results of a pilot program designed to reduce the number of illegal signs placed in public rights of way.  While removal of these signs is a VDOT responsibility, the purpose of the pilot program was to determine whether the County could effectively improve the voluntary removal of these signs through a public education campaign. Signs, typically of a temporary nature, erected along our roadways contribute to visual clutter and negatively impact the scenic quality of the County.  These can also include signs made of a permanent material, such as real estate "For Sale" signs.  These signs are often erected on weekends along major roads.  This proliferation of signs and difficulty in removal is a common problem for localities throughout the Commonwealth. 

 

STRATEGIC PLAN:

·         Protect the County's Natural, Scenic and Historic Resources

·         Enhance the quality of life for all Albemarle County citizens

 

DISCUSSION:

At the start of the program we sent out a press release describing the program to the media and to organizations such as the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors, Blue Ridge Home Builders, Chamber of Commerce, and local political organizations.  The pilot program was conducted on designated Saturdays between August 13 and November 12, 2005.  During that time period, inspectors traveled along Routes 29 and 250 noting signs that were likely in the VDOT right of way.  A total of five (5) sign sweeps were conducted during that time period.  Because there is no easy and quick way to determine the edge of right of way on a given section of either of these roads, inspectors were only able to make educated guesses.   Back in the office, staff attempted to find contact information for each of the signs in question—in many instances (almost a third of the signs), no such information was available.  Staff then sent a letter describing the sign education program and noting that the sign in question was possibly in violation.  The follow-up letter was sent for 3 out of the 5 sign sweeps.  This decision was based on limited resources, and to avoid sending duplicative letters within a short time period to the same individuals/organizations.  The results of the 5 sign sweeps are below:

 

 

Sweep #1 (8/13/05 and 8/20/05) *Letters sent*

Sweep #2 (8/27/05) *Letters sent*

Sweep #3 (9/19/05)

Sweep #4 (9/24/05) *Letters sent*

Sweep #5 (11/12/05)

Route 29

30 (only North of City)

61

57

31

47

Route 250

66 (not all of 250)

122

123

37

64

 

Based on the fluctuating number of signs found, it is difficult to draw a clear conclusion about the effectiveness of the education program.  Though there appears to have been a dramatic decrease in sign numbers by 9/24/05 (Sweep #4), the numbers had increased again less than two months later.  Staff was advised that citizens possibly took a proactive role in sign removal, which may have temporarily lowered the number of signs. 

 

It is unclear whether education without enforcement/removal will have any lasting impact.  It is also difficult to ascertain a cause-and-effect associated with this pilot program.   For example, signage may increase during the nicer weather or when UVA students and staff return to town, and decrease as the weather gets colder and there are fewer events such as weddings and yard and tent sales. 

 

The resources required for the 5 sign sweeps and the follow-up contact were significant.  Approximately 115 staff hours were dedicated to this pilot program, the majority of which was paid at time-and-a-half.  It is estimated that the program cost just over $3,960, or $790 per sweep.[1]  The response to our follow-up letter sent to potential violators was overwhelmingly negative, and consumed a significant amount of staff time during regular work hours when phone calls were received.  Multiple callers stated that the program was not a good use of taxpayer’s money.  Callers also pointed out that the County places its public notice signs in the public right-of-way. 

 

It is very important to note that the numbers cited above reflect the cost just for education on two major roads, Routes 29 and 250.  In addition to these roadways, there are 15 other entrance corridors.  Enforcement would require exponentially more resources to research things such as the exact location of the right of way, the owner of the sign and then to follow up with enforcement notice and action.  If we addressed these signs on a proactive basis, the subsequent enforcement proceedings could easily double the current number of pending zoning violations that we have open.  As we have reported to the Board previously, we are already unable to provide the level of customer service with zoning enforcement that we would like to at our current workload levels and we have heard some community concern about illegal dumping enforcement in particular.  To address these needs, we have submitted recent budget requests for an additional zoning inspector and a signs reviewer.  If we add these illegal signs to our enforcement workload, zoning inspections and enforcement in general, including more significant violations (some of which could potentially pose a health and/or safety hazard) would inevitably fall even further behind.  This would result in a longer initial response time for investigation or inspection, and would also increase the amount of time it would take to attain compliance and close a case. 

 

Finally, it should be noted that staff believes it would be difficult to implement a sign removal program without assigning it to someone as a primary responsibility.  Numerous questions arise with regard to whether the sign is actually in the right of way, how best to contact violators, and how to prioritize the violations. 

 

BUDGET IMPACT:

The cost of removal, which is discussed below as staff’s recommendation, would likely require the equivalent of a part-time inspector at a minimum.  This would cost approximately $54,680 in year one and $28,515 in the second year (see attachment B).  This might allow staff to expand the program to include all entrance corridors, furthering our goal to protect the County's scenic resources. 

 

Although the County could obtain authority from VDOT to fine the violators, any revenue collected would only partially offset the cost of removal.  The cost of enforcement to get a violator to court just once is estimated at approximately 20 hours’ of Community Development staff time ($452) —this does not include the resources needed from the County Attorney’s Office.[2]  If we had attempted to take enforcement actions against all of the illegal signs noted on an average Saturday on Routes 29 and 250 (136 signs), it would have cost the County approximately $61,472 in staff resources to take the violators to court once.        

  

During the recent Board strategic planning retreat, the issue of the illegal placement of signs in public rights of way was briefly mentioned in terms of promoting economic vitality and enhancing the quality of life.  If the Board finds this to be a priority and wishes to reduce the number of illegal signs in the public rights of way, staff recommends removal, not enforcement.  Enforcement requires a great deal of resources and often takes a significant period of time.  Staff believes that removing the signs sends the quickest message to the violator and is a deterrent to the future placement

of illegal signs.  Removal has also proven a good option for municipalities such as Henrico and Chesterfield, both of which remove illegal signs from public rights of way.  As discussed in an earlier report to the Board (see Attachment A), the County would need to get authority from VDOT in order to implement a removal program.  In addition, because this is a new program, additional resources would be needed.        

 

 

RECOMMENDATIONS:

As discussed, the County’s education efforts have shown mixed results.  Continuing the current education program without more aggressive removal of signs or further consequences for violators will likely not produce improved results.  Removal of signs becomes a deterrent to the placement of new illegal signs and is the recommended approach.  Therefore, if the Board wishes to continue this program and make it more effective, staff recommends a proactive removal program.  Should this be the Board’s desired approach, additional resources will need to be considered during the upcoming budget process.

 

 

ATTACHMENTS:

A  - August 3, 2005 Report to Board re: illegal signs in the public rights of way

B – Estimated cost of part-time sign removal position

Return to regular agenda

 


 

[1] This calculation used an hourly straight-time rate of $17.40 (average hourly pay rate of staff) resulting in $26.10 an hour for overtime, estimated benefits at 30% of salary, and assumed a rate of 48.5 cents/mile (108 miles round-trip on Routes 29 and 250).  It calculates salary based on time-and-a-half and estimates benefits based on straight time.  It does not capture additional overhead costs other than vehicle mileage and estimated costs for the letter mailings.     

[2] Same calculation as in footnote 1.