Signs of the Times for Boyce Planning Commission

With an eye towards guarding the aesthetic character of the Town of Boyce, the Planning Commission met Tuesday night to discuss several proposed modifications to the town zoning ordinances. Specifically at issue were fences and digital signs. Planning & Zoning Administrator Chuck Johnston presented the two proposed changes to the commission for discussion.

First was a proposed modification that addresses fences within the town limits. Planning & Zoning Administrator Chuck Johnston said that he had initiated the idea of height restrictions in town noting some examples seen in subdivisions in Boyce. He said, “Consensus is that higher fences may not necessarily be a good idea.” The proposed amendment to the Town Zoning ordinance is as follows:

Section 4-G-3, Uses and Structures Permitted in Required Yards, so as to limit the height of fences, walls, or hedges placed on property lines to six feet (instead of seven) generally, and for corner lots, to limit the height of fences, walls, and hedges to three foot six inches (instead of seven feet) within the area less than twenty feet from the intersection of two street right of way lines.

Currently the Town Zoning Ordinance allows seven-foot tall fences, walls, or hedges to be located on property lines in front, side, and rear yards. This amendment would limit the height of fences on property lines to six feet. Fences over six feet would still be allowed but would be considered structures and would therefore, require a building permit. The permit would require that the fences follow setback requirements like any other accessory structure. The current setback is 5 feet.

In addition on corner lots, this amendment would limit fence, walls or hedges to 3′-6″ within 20 feet of an intersection of street right of ways. This proposed modification would provide better sight lines for vehicle traffic at intersections. The height is based on VDOT’s determination of eye level for the driver of a vehicle.

The commission discussed some possible scenarios where some styles of fence provide better site lines, such as chain link fences, but the consensus was to keep the language in the proposed amendment simple and not address specific types of fence.

Chuck Johnston also pointed out that the proposed change was forward looking and would not impact existing fences in the town.

The proposed change was unanimously approved to be forwarded to the town council for consideration.

The second zoning issue addressed LED signage. As remodeling work continues on the Boyce fire hall, a donation towards installing an LED sign required the planning commission to examine the impact of new technologies as they pertain to existing sign ordinances. The proposed changes to the Town Zoning Ordinance for this matter are as follows:

Section 4-I-2, Signs Prohibited so as to prohibit changeable message signs that change more frequently than once every three hours, time/temperature signs that change more frequently than once every 15 seconds, and prohibit signs that revolve, twirl, rotate, flash;
Section 4-I-3, Signs Permitted, as to allow Electronic Display Free-standing and Wall Signs in the Business Zoning District with time and light intensity limits;
Section 4-I-8, Sign Definitions, so as to establish definitions for ‘Animated Signs’, ‘Changeable Message Signs’, ‘Electronic Display Signs’, and Time & Temperature Signs’.

The changes are intended to help the town clarify rules as they pertain to new technologies in commercial signage. Specifically LED technology that allows signs to be constantly variable in their display, intensity, and color. The proposed amendments would limit the changeabilty of sign displays, movement of the signs, and the intensity of light levels emitted by the signs. These are intended to allow the incorporation of new technologies, while precluding signs that are distracting to drivers, or that are so bright as to negatively impact nearby residents or businesses.

After some discussion of the technology, the commission came to a consensus that a three hour limit to changeability was inordinately long and settled on a proposed 1 minute duration for digital signs that change their displayed message. The technical recommendation to the council include suggestions on:

Brightness – 5000 nits (1 nit is unit of measure equal to 1 candle power per square meter) during daylight hours (8:00AM to sunset) and 500 nit at night.
Changeable Message – The duration of each message on a digital sign must be at least 1 minute
Malfunction Guard – Must include technology that turns-off the sign in the event of a malfunction that could cause the sign to flash or create a nuisance.

The Commission unanimously approved the measure for recommendation to the town council.

Both zoning matters will be addressed at the next Boyce Town Council meeting on September 07 2010 at 7:30pm at the Boyce Town Hall.


  1. Upperville Fire Station has one. It’s not that big of a deal.

  2. Sally Thomas says:

    Scenic Virginia has weighed in on the issue of LED signs in other communities. Such signs can be dangerously as well as aesthetically distracting, depending on their placement and light intensity. Although the applicant in Boyce is a community organization, beware of the camel’s head effect — a fine, upstanding organization with good intentions can lead to a change in ordinance that allows flashing, intense, commercial applications that can be harmful. Just a reminder: aging eyes adapt to changing light intensity much slower than youthful eyes. As we age, we can vitually be blinded by a bright sign, making us very dangerous drivers for several minutes.