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Virginia Supreme Court Ruling Has Immediate – and Potentially Broader – Impact on Sign Industry

A recent decision by the Supreme Court of Virginia directly impacts Virginia sign companies and has the potential for a broader impact across the United States.

For sign companies that work in Virginia: Any public action—variance, zoning changes or sign code changes—voted on virtually between March 17, 2020 and March 31, 2021 in Fairfax County—may no longer be valid. The court ruled on March 23, 2023 that virtual meetings in Fairfax County in 2020-21 did not fulfill the obligation for open meetings and rendered any action taken on normal, non-emergency business during an online public meeting as invalid. Fairfax County immediately reverted to its last passed zoning ordinance, rendered in 1978 and updated throughout the years.

ISA recommends that every company operating in Virginia speak to county/municipal zoning officials in advance of any sign project to verify the status of the jurisdiction’s sign ordinance. ISA expects that Fairfax County staff will begin the process of reintroducing the 2021 ordinance, through public meetings, hearings, and an eventual vote for adoption. ISA will be connecting with Fairfax County officials directly and will be monitoring for possible sign ordinance moratoriums in other jurisdictions.

For sign companies operating outside of Virginia: When courts issue rulings, often other communities will issue moratoriums on new sign permits while municipal attorneys assess the impact of the court ruling on its actions. ISA has not yet heard of any moratoriums outside of Virginia related to this court ruling. ISA will be speaking with thousands of planners and local officials about this issue during the American Planning Association national conference in Philadelphia next week and will assess whether other states might be involved in similar legal action.

ISA will keep members updated on this rapidly developing situation. If you have any additional questions or know of a community that may have a similar circumstance as Fairfax County, please contact ISA Advocacy staff at [email protected].