County Board Tailors Sign Rules for Urban Regional Shopping Centers

Published on November 05, 2016


  • Greater flexibility, more signage aims to make malls more competitive

  • Follows recommendations of 2015 Retail Plan

  • Allowing free-standing signs and temporary, projected images


Citing the unique challenges Arlington's regional shopping centers face in an evolving retail market, the Arlington County Board today approved new, tailored sign regulations that will apply to Ballston Common Mall (the future Ballston Quarter) and Fashion Centre at Pentagon City.

The Zoning Ordinance changes adopted by the Board include the type of signs allowed at urban regional shopping centers; the amount of sign area; placement and sign characteristics. Under the amendments, regional shopping centers will be allowed a larger amount of sign area and more flexibility in where signs are placed. They also will be allowed to have freestanding signs and temporary projected images.

"Our two big malls are important to Arlington's economy and are centers of activity in the Ballston and Pentagon City neighborhoods," said County Board Chair Libby Garvey. "The County listened to the business community and the neighborhoods and I'm pleased that we were able to move quickly to adopt common-sense changes to the Zoning Ordinance that will encourage these shopping centers to increase their placemaking, be creative with their signage and stay regionally competitive."

The Board voted unanimously to approve the changes to the Zoning Ordinance To read the staff report, scroll to item No. 39 on the Agenda for the November 5, 2016 County Board Regular Meeting.

Following recommendations of 2015 Retail Plan


The Board's actions follow the recommendations of the Arlington County Retail Plan, adopted by the Board in July 2015. The plan calls for studying opportunities to reposition and redevelop aging urban regional shopping centers.

The Retail Plan recommends that Ballston Common Mall and Fashion Centre increase placemaking efforts by pulling storefronts to the street; creating multiple entry points and creating activity and attractions on the outside as well as inside. Ballston Mall is currently being redeveloped into Ballston Quarter, incorporating many of the Retail Plan's recommendations. Fashion Centre also is being expanded and remodeled. To support the redevelopment and repositioning, staff studied the centers' characteristics and looked at examples throughout the country.

The new regulations are tailored to the unique character of these centers — their built form and the concentration of retail, entertainment and restaurants they offer. They also support the transformation recommended by the Retail Plan by providing more sign area and placement flexibility on facades that have been opened up to the street. The regulations could be used by an urban regional shopping center through an administratively approved comprehensive sign plan.

Community process


The Zoning Ordinance amendments were discussed at a public meeting on April 7, 2016. The amendments also were reviewed by the Zoning Committee of the Planning Commission as well as a number of other stakeholder groups and commissions including the Economic Development Commission, the Arlington Chamber of Commerce Government Relations Committee, the Planning Commission and the Commercial Real Estate Development Group.

For more information, visit the Zoning Studies page on the County website.