“Throughout the world, the more wrong a man does, the more indignant is he at wrong done to him.”—Anthony Trollope, The Way We Live Now
A fascinating insight into the mindset of those behind the brand-new Republican Board of Supervisors’ decision to abruptly end the illegal-sign removal program was offered the other day by a representative of one of the chief violators of the sign law, the real estate and development industry.
In fairness it’s worth noting that real estate agents who actually know how to do their job don’t resort to the bottom-feeding and mindless tactic of littering the countryside with their logos and pictures of themselves. One real estate agent who spoke before the board last month in favor of the sign-cleanup program made exactly that point: signs are not an effective way to sell houses, he said.
Sadly more typical of the morals and business acumen of the industry is one Helen Ganster of Keller Williams Realty, who in a letter this week to Leesburg Today expressing her “great pleasure” and “relief” that the sign cleanup program has been killed demonstrated that she still doesn’t have a clue what the law is, or why she should have to obey it.
“During these economically challenging times, confiscating legally placed signage unnecessarily hurts business,” says Ms. Ganster.
Well, to start with, none of the signs collected by the cleanup program were legally placed. The state law, which applies everywhere in the state, is simple and unequivocal:
§ 33.1-373. Advertising on rocks, poles, etc., within limits of highway; civil penalty.
Any person who in any manner (i) paints, prints, places, puts or affixes any advertisement upon or to any rock, stone, tree, fence, stump, pole, mile-board, milestone, danger-sign, guide-sign, guidepost, highway sign, historical marker, building or other object lawfully within the limits of any highway or (ii) erects, paints, prints, places, puts, or affixes any advertisement within the limits of any highway shall be assessed a civil penalty of $100. Each occurrence shall be subject to a separate penalty.
There, now, is that so hard to understand? You can’t do it—even in these economically challenging times, even if your industry did give $460,000 in campaign contributions to help elect the county’s new all-Republican board of supervisors.
And, despite award-winning real-estate entrepreneur and job creator Ms. Ganster’s implication to the contrary, it’s also illegal to place real estate for-sale signs on private property under the county zoning ordinance, with the sole exception of a single sign on the actual property that’s for sale. If you place an “open house” or “for sale” sign down the road, even with permission of that other landowner down the road, you’re breaking the zoning law. Off-site advertising is illegal, period. (Again: the sign cleanup program was limited to signs on public property. But it’s kind of hard to see what Ms. Ganster is so indignant about. She’s breaking the law either way.)
There’s of course a simple step citizens fed up with these we’re-above-the-law realtors can take, besides continuing what Ms. Ganster terms the “vigilante” action of wanton and out-of-control litter cleanup: they can refuse to do business with Ms. Ganster and Keller Williams until she starts demonstrating some civic responsibility and respect for all the other people trying to make a living in these economically challenging times who are hurt by having their county trashed by her illegal, unsightly and mindless advertising. She might even find that if the county looks more beautiful, more people will want to buy a home here!
But even if that concept is beyond her ability to grasp, is it really too much to ask the members of the real estate business to read the law?
The rest of us don’t seem to have any trouble.