Illegal signs: An eyesore and often dangerous

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by Janet Roach, 13News Now

WVEC.com

Posted on November 5, 2013 at 5:30 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 5 at 8:00 PM

YORK COUNTY - The trunk of John Rogerson's Chevy Cavalier is filled with illegal signs.

"This may be a month's worth of signs," says Rogerson.  

He's a senior zoning officer in James City County and spends a lot of time removing signs from the side of road, ones that are put up in the state right of way.

Most are advertising a service or product -- from "We Buy China" to "We buy junk cars" to credit repair offers.

Not only do they clutter the roadway, sometimes blocking drivers’ views, they can be dangerous, as Rogerson found out.

"It had razor blades and roofing tar substance on the back of it. The potential was there for me to seriously harm myself. I was very angry. I took it to the police department," he said.

Rogerson says James City County officials recently learned an inspector in northern Virginia picked up a sign and was badly cut by razor blades.  

It makes county zoning all the more determined to remove illegal signs.

Starting this year, an illegal sign can draw a fine of $134.

"The number of signs has dropped tremendously since we started issuing those notices of violation," says Zoning Enforcement Director Jason Purse. "We have collected $900 from one violator."

Purse says they make sure they walk around any signs before touching them to make sure there are no hazards.

In Newport News, the signs have also proven to be a nuisance for code inspectors and they are now becoming more aggressive when going after violators.  It is a criminal offense in the city.  A conviction could bring the violator a $2,500 per-sign fine.

Senior Codes Compliance Director Larry Payne says Newport News has taken eight to ten violators to court in the last few months.

Recently, the city instituted a call notification system to tell put violators on notice.  It’s used most often on the signs that only list a phone number and don’t show a person or company name.  Inspectors just enter numbers into the system and choose the settings for how often they’re called and when.

"If we get a number from one of these signs, we put it in there. Theoretically, we could call frequently enough that it might tie up their lines," says Payne.

Some violators have gotten as many as 13 calls a day telling them their signs have been picked up, he notes.

The calls won’t stop until the city’s message is acknowledged.

Inspectors in Newport News and James City County say the signs put businesses that are advertising legitimately at a disadvantage.

Beth Johnson, the owner of Johnson Mustang and Truck parts in Chesapeake, cringes every time she sees a "We buy junk cars" sign.  She spends a lot of money on advertising and has to follow many regulations just to operate.

"All the other salvage yards--they're doing the same thing.  They're following the rules and they're doing what we have to do and they're aggravating rules. Some of them are downright stupid that you have to follow, but we follow them. We just want everybody to follow the same rules we follow," says Johnson.

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