Two Vienna agencies were at odds at a public hearing Monday night over how commercial signs should be displayed in the town.
Audrey Brown, a member of the town's Architectural Review Board, told town council members that signs should be for identification and not for advertisement. Thomas Herron, representing the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, called a proposed revision to the zoning ordinance unconstitutional.
The meeting had promised to be so heated that Mayor Charles A. Robinson Jr. asked Judge Philip Brophy to be "referee."
The proposed revision to the Vienna zoning ordinance, drawn up by Charles Sloan from the Architectural Review Board, would ban neon tubing signs, reduce the space allowed for advertisements in the windows to 25 percent of the total glass area, require permits for permanent window signs, require the removal of signs that are illegal or derelict, and prohibit signs above the first floor.
The proposal prompted a strong response from the business community.
"We do not believe that the town or any other governmental entity may legislate away our right" to inform on the basis that it may distract drivers on Maple Avenue, said Herron, who works for the company of Advertising Dynamics.
"Merchants know full well that communication with the buying public will be felt at the cash register," he said.
Herron said that it "is interesting to note that nowhere in the premises set forth is there any recognition of the constitutional right to commercial speech. This omission is particularly unfortunate in the year that we celebrate the 200th anniversary of our Constitution."
In support of the revisions to the zoning ordinance, three members of the architectural board argued for the beautification of Vienna and the preservation of its buildings.
Fannie Ann Travis criticized the proliferation of neon signs, which she described as "garish," and said the proposal is long overdue and necessary to keep the esthetics of the town of Vienna.
After three hours of discussion, Robinson set another hearing for Sept. 14.
In the midst of the sometimes heated debate, the mayor said the power of the Architectural Review Board was not going to diminish, but he sided with the Chamber of Commerce's position that if signs are in good taste, they should be able to advertise. He also said a decision should be reached with the full cooperation of the business community.
The mayor asked the Chamber of Commerce to present in six weeks a feasible proposal on the sign issue so it could be studied by the council.