Don't take it personally, Arlington County told the owners of USA Today yesterday, but a gigantic, lighted sign atop the newspaper's Rosslyn headquarters is something the community's skyline can do quite nicely without, thank you.
Arlington is delighted that USA Today and its owner, the Gannett Corp., decided to "join the Arlington family," said County Board Vice Chairwoman Mary Margaret Whipple. Nonetheless, she added in the next breath, Arlington has always had very conservative rules about signs.
On that note, the board unanimously turned thumbs down on a proposal to more than triple the size of the blue USA Today sign that sits atop the newspaper's offices in one of the twin buildings of the 29-story Arland Towers Complex.
In other action yesterday, the board approved fare increases for taxicabs, although not at the levels cabdrivers had requested. The changes will keep Arlington's rates, which have not risen for four years, among the highest in the metropolitan area.
At the same time that the board rejected an increase in the size of the present USA Today sign, it disallowed placement of any sign with the Gannett name atop the second Arland tower, which houses the giant newspaper chain's corporate headquarters.
"The Gannett people are not pleased about this," Frank Lyman, a lawyer representing Gannett, said after the meeting. "It's a basic right that a company ought to be able to use its name."
Gannett wanted both signs to help establish a presence in the Washington area since the company's move from Rochester, N.Y., Lyman said.
The present USA Today sign -- which is 246 square feet -- is too small to be seen clearly, especially because its deep blue color does not project well against the skyline, Lyman said. The proposed sign would have been 780 square feet.
Others at the meeting said they could see the current sign just fine -- and then some. Board member Ellen M. Bozman said that when she is in the District and looks across the Potomac toward Arlington, she finds even the current sign obtrusive.
Officials of the National Capital Planning Commission agreed. They sent letters to the board two weeks ago protesting the proposed expansion of the sign's size. Other tenants of Arland Towers, including the Northrop Corp., a major defense contractor, said yesterday that a larger sign would detract from the prestige of the buildings.
The board later in the day agreed unanimously with a petition signed by 190 of Arlington's 1,529 licensed taxi drivers, saying that inflation had eaten away at their incomes and that they deserved an increase in cab fares.
Although the increases were significantly smaller than the drivers had requested, most of the cabbies at the meeting stood and applauded after the vote. The petition had called for a charge of $1.20 for the first one-twelfth of a mile traveled; instead, fares will go to $1 for the first one-tenth of a mile, up from 90 cents. The 10-cent fare paid for each additional one-tenth of a mile remains unchanged. The fare increase is tentatively scheduled to go into effect Oct. 1.
Other increases approved yesterday include a $1 charge for each additional passenger, up from 60 cents; a 50-cent charge when a driver is required to handle more than two pieces of luggage, up from 20 cents, and a new $2 charge for handling footlockers.
The board rejected the drivers' request to increase from six years to 10 the age at which taxis must be retired. Board Chairman John G. Milliken said the rule helps ensure the quality of Arlington cabs, which he said he believes are safer and more pleasant to ride in than taxis in the District and other local jurisdictions.
Though he eventually voted in favor of the rate increases, board member Albert C. Eisenberg raised the issue of how increases would affect the large number of Arlington senior citizens on fixed incomes who depend heavily on taxis.
Defending the boosts, Arlington cabdriver Willie D. Smith said increased costs to drivers made a fare increase essential: "We're not trying to rip anyone off. You've got to eat, I've got to eat."