In Old Town Manassas, an array of colorful signs and banners announces daily entrees and store sales and proclaim personal interests. From the Redskins flag atop RW Books on Center Street to the short sandwich board detailing Okra's Cajun specials, the signs personalize the restored downtown.
Last week, at the urging of city staff members, the City Council proposed amending Manassas's sign ordinance to better regulate the size, height and placement of such signs, flags and banners.
The proposed regulations would lower the minimum height of flags and shop signs from 10 feet to eight feet above the sidewalk, allow banners to be stretched across the side of a building facing traffic and legalize the portable sandwich boards that have dotted Center Street. But balloons decorating store fronts would have to be removed.
The proposed changes have met with little opposition.
Lou Balboni, president of the Old Town Business Association, said at a recent City Council meeting that his group initially thought balloons were a necessary part of doing business but was "willing to let that one go."
"Old Town has become a place where people want to come and shop and walk around," he said. "And we support the sign ordinances recommended by the city staff."
Currently, store signs are set into door frames 10 feet above the sidewalk. And it's not the height that's impractical, said Roger Snyder, director of community development, but the way signs are mounted.
"Placement is difficult because it's often on the second floor. This will allow the signs to be drilled in easier," he said.
A few members of the Planning Commission objected to the proposed height change, saying that tall people might face a hazard when walking in Old Town.
"But really, how many people are there who are eight feet tall?" Snyder asked.
With the sandwich boards, which a few people had complained obstruct the sidewalks, new regulations would legalize them, provided they are properly placed. When properly placed, sandwich boards are no more a nuisance than plants, Snyder said. Sandwich boards could be used provided they leave a width of 48 inches on the sidewalks, allowing two people to walk side by side.
Should the changes pass, banners could be placed on the side of building walls that face oncoming traffic, rather than parallel to the traffic, as they currently are.
"These regulations are either adjusted or amended for practical reasons," Snyder said. "With the banners, you might as well have a sign that people can see."
The changes were approved by residents in a series of work sessions. Although the amendment to the sign ordinance was approved at its first reading, the City Council will review it again before making a final vote, which could take place soon.
"This is really a reflection that the city is willing and able to adjust to the changing needs of the community and its businesses," Snyder said. "It shows the city as business friendly while still maintaining the health and safety of the citizens."