Progress on the mural (and on this blog) hit a bit of a speed bump last week. As I was putting the finishing touches on the design in Illustrator (more on that later), I got a call from Angela Adams over at Arlington Public Arts. Angela was a huge help throughout the Spotlight Grant application process. She was calling to let me know that my project did not fall under the jurisdiction of the Arlington Public Arts Committee. This seemed, at first, a good thing; I would not need to go through the Public Art Committee’s approval process and so I could get started right away. But there was one catch: because it was determined to be a non-public art project, Angela and I concluded that I would have to follow the County sign ordinance. Here’s the bit of the sign ordinance that seemed to apply to my project:
A mural or work of visual art that otherwise meets the definition of “sign” in this §34 but that conforms with either of the following standards shall not be subject to regulation under this §34:
(1) Art that is installed or located in accordance with the Arlington County Public Art Policy; or
(2) Art that meets all of the following criteria:
- (a) Is located on the wall of a building in any district, but not in R districts or RA14-26, RA8-18, RA7-16 or RA6-15; and
- (b) Includes no text legible from a public roadway; and
- (c) Includes no logo or trademarked symbol; and
- (d) Includes no specific commercial product, although it may include such generic products as automobiles, furniture, soft drinks or other items where the brand is not apparent; and
- (e) Includes no picture, symbol or device of any kind that relates to a commercial business, product or service offered on the premises where the wall is located.
Not exactly a thrilling read, I know. But the general idea of the ordinance is that signs cannot include legible text, logos, or advertisements. No problem! But (a) is where I got a little hung up; my mural site at Lee Highway and North Veitch Street is in an RA8-18 (basically, residential apartment) zone. After a year of meetings, drawings, design work, and grant applications, it seemed like the whole project was about to get derailed by a county zoning ordinance.
Angela suggested that I head to the county zoning offices and ask to speak with Clif Hogan, who had dealt with these kinds of issues before. I met with Clif and he was perplexed as Angela and I. My project is not a Public Artwork, true – it’s on private property. But “sign” didn’t seem to properly describe it either. Isn’t there anything in the county ordinances for private works of art? Clif told me he would do some research and get back to me in a few days.
In the meantime, I stopped all work on the mural. I didn’t want to sink any more hours into a project that might get canceled. I was also afraid that I would have to go through some sort of zoning exception hearing that could take weeks or months to complete, and we would run out of warm weather for painting once again. It seems like all the hours I had put into the project had gone to waste.
I hadn’t heard from Clif in a few days so I decided to nervously give him a call. If the project was off, I wanted to know about it as soon as possible. The phone rang and rang. The suspense was killing me! He finally answered. “Oh, I’ve been meaning to give you a call. Seems like your project isn’t a sign at all, it’s a private art work, which we were somehow missing the ordinance for.” This was something so obvious, yet so not obvious in Arlington County ordinance language. I still don’t quite understand how Clif worked it out because I haven’t seen the ordinance he referred to, but I have the County’s go-ahead and that’s what matters! I lost a few days of work in the process, but I’m getting back on track. Stay tuned for updates about how things are looking at the mural site!