The Arlington County Board approved a compromise proposal yesterday for a 6-by-41-foot sign facing Georgetown from near the top of the 29-story Arland Towers building in Rosslyn.
An earlier version of the controversial plan, which called for two larger signs that could have been seen from the Mall and Arlington National Cemetery, had been criticized by the county staff as an advertisement and by the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and others as an intrusion on the Washington skyline.
The USA Today sign just below the rooftop on the northeast corner of the building will bear the name and logo of a new national newspaper that Gannett Co., a nationwide newspaper chain, plans to begin publishing this year. Its offices will be in Arland Towers
The dark blue sign will be nearly twice as large in area as any other sign now near the top of a Rossyln office building, a county staff memo said. As approved, it will be illuminated from behind at night and be at least slightly visible from the Lincoln Memorial, said George Oberlander, an NCPC official. No other similar sign in Rossyln can now be seen from Washington's monuments, according to a county staff report.
"It is an appropriate sign to add . . . ," said board member Walter L. Frankland. "It will literally put Arlington on the map." Republican board members Stephen H. Detwiler and Dorothy T. Grotos joined Frankland in voting for the proposal. Democrat-backed independent Ellen M. Bozman voted against the proposal. Democrat John G. Milliken was not present.
Vincent E. Spezzano, USA Today executive vice president, defended the plan, saying the sign is not an advertisement because the purpose of Gansat, a Gannett subsidiary and building tenant, is to publish USA Today. He said the sign "is important because of the identification for the headquarters of USA Today."
The original proposal for two 7-by-48-foot signs that could have been seen from the Mall and Arlington Cemetery was withdrawn after sharp criticism from the Department of the Interior, the NCPC, Arland Towers tenants and the Army.
"These proposed signs would be clearly visible both day and night from the Monumental Core," wrote Helen M. Scharf, NCPC chairman, of the original proposal, "and would have an adverse visual impact."
"It is our opinion that a sign . . . visible from Arlington National Cemetery would desecrate a national treasure," Army official Don W. Butler wrote to the County Board. The county staff also opposed the two-sign proposal, though it recommended approval of a single sign yesterday.
But the approved plan was still controversial. "It's commercial and cheapens the feeling one gets in part of our city," said Charles H. Atherton, secretary of the Commission of Fine Arts in Washington.
An Interior official opposed the single sign yesterday, saying, "Our position is that no sign should be permitted on the east face of the Arland Towers building."