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Fairfax County Ditches Restriction To Electronic Signs

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Fairfax County is abandoning a zoning rule limiting electronic signs to two messages a day.

Nobody at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Vienna, Va., expected a county code compliance officer to send a letter complaining about the new $30,000 electronic sign. That's what happened in July, when the church was given a choice: limit the number of messages on the sign or unplug it.

"It shocked us that this was the position of the county," says Michael York, who represented the church in federal court, where the church charged that Fairfax County was violating the First Amendment. "When any government entity allows a particular type of communication for one purpose, it's very difficult for that same local government to turn around and deny the same kind of communication for most other purposes."

The county blinked, and is now agreeing to ditch its limitation on how many messages could be flashed across electronic signs. York says Fairfax is not alone in trying to cope with new technology in a changing world.

"On the one hand, there are people who want to have unlimited signage and unlimited messages, and on the other hand there are plenty of people who think that distracts from the character of a neighborhood or the beauty of a thoroughfare," says York.

Now the county is launching a new comprehensive effort to examine how signs can be displayed across the county.

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