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Advertising Signs in Shopping Center 'Have to Go'

Pork may be great, but people in Great Falls apparently didn’t think much of a sign that advertised it as “the other white meat.”

“Ain’t pork great?” asked one of several signs that went up in the Great Falls Shopping Center on Sept. 24.

On the other side, it advertised Doritos, perhaps a good accouterment for pork, but hardly the kind of healthy snack that parents want their children to think about when they go to the grocery store.

Although the subject matter may have better suited the populace, two signs for Desani “designer” water didn’t get much better reviews in Great Falls.

“They have to go,” said Karen Washburn, one of two representatives from Great Falls, who serves on the Fairfax County Historical Commission.

Eight days after they went up, the signs went.

“Following a large response from the community, both positive and negative, the owners have elected to have the signs removed,” wrote Julie A. Pryor, senior property manager for Carl M. Freeman Retail, LLC, in a letter to Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) president Eleanor Anderson.

“I personally would like to add that I appreciate the responses from members of the Great Falls Citizens Association who voiced their opposition in a professional manner,” she said.

“The community responded quickly, and Carl Freeman responded quickly to the community’s response,” said John Ulfelder, treasurer of the GFCA.

“I think most people saw it as a crass way to make a little money,” said Ulfelder.

WHEN SHE FIRST SAW THE SIGNS, Anderson rushed into the Safeway store at the shopping center to ask about them. “Safeway was appalled,” Anderson said, especially because many residents assumed that as the largest store in the shopping center, Safeway was somehow responsible for what Anderson called “crass commercialism.”

But Safeway wasn’t.

The signs were an advertising vehicle shared between the Freeman Cos. and Starlite Media.

“If they were to be backlighted and all the trees were bare, it would really be garish. Some of our merchants could have advertised there,” Anderson said. But if they had, “They would have been dead in the water,” she said. “They would have gotten an earful.”

On Sept. 26, Anderson fired off a letter to Freeman, reminding them that signage was among the conditions crafted in 1977 when the owners of the shopping center asked for a special exception to Fairfax County zoning to allow its construction in an area abutting residential zoning.

“We have worked consistently over the years to keep the size, color and lighting of merchant signs to a discreet standard in order to limit adverse impacts on the adjacent residentially zoned property and in keeping with the semi-rural character of the Great Falls area,” Anderson wrote.

“GFCA has never supported the placement of advertising signs in the Center parking lot or on the peripheral grassy strips that are in VDOT [Virginia Department of Transportation] right of way, in violation of VDOT regulations governing signs.”

Anderson said it took about 90 minutes to collect 50 signatures on a petition protesting the signs, a rate slightly better than one signee every two minutes.

“I went in and asked Ray at Office Express to send a GFCA alert to all who are on our e-mail list,” she said. “Everyone who had given us an e-mail got a copy of the alert.”

Just to be sure word got around, she also called Lynn Kemmerer, president of the PTA at the 813-student Great Falls Elementary School, and asked her to also send out word via e-mail.

“People are really upset about the signs,” she said. “They are totally inappropriate for a shopping center.”

But resistance was not 100-percent negative.

“There were maybe three or four people who didn’t mind,” Anderson said. “There was one lady in advertising who said they didn’t bother her.

“It is really a good example of doing something quickly to nip something in the bud,” said Anderson. “I am very appreciative that they were so responsive.

“I hope they know, and will get back in touch with the community before they do something so stupid [again],” she said, referring to the signs as “a real big boo-boo.”

“I think it was really just a super response on the part of the community,” Anderson said. “I never had a chance to send her a copy of the original petitions.”