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Should There Be One Sign or Two?

Church Street Vision District undergoes test.

One day in the future, Beth Wiley, owner of the Church Street shop Earth and Fire, may have signage on both of her two front windows. But for now, the signage will appear only on one window, according to design requirements in the town's Church Street Vision District.

Citing the newness of the design requirements for Church Street businesses, the Vienna Town Council rejected Wiley's request to have signage appear on two windows instead of one, during a Jan. 5 meeting. The vote to deny the request was 6-0, with Councilman Al Boudreau absent.

"The Church Street Vision is still in its infancy," said Councilwoman Maud Robinson, who added that the ordinance was "very difficult" to craft. Robinson also served on the committee that created the ordinance. "Frankly, at this stage, the line needs to be held."

Councilwoman Laurie Cole agreed, "We need a little more experience to know what changes might be appropriate."

The requirements had been suggested by the Church Street Vision Committee in order to streamline design on the historic street. Passed by the Town Council in 2000, the requirements determine what kind of material can be used for a sign's lettering, as well as what size and number of signs a shop or business can have. These requirements are listed in the Town Code.

With the construction and subsequent move-in of new businesses along the corridor, Wiley's shop is one of the first businesses to undergo the stricter design guidelines.

Wiley appeared before the Council on April 7, 2003, to ask the Council to allow her to use vinyl lettering instead of gold-leaf lettering for her signage on the front window, citing costs. She also asked the Council to permit her to paint "Earth and Fire" on both front windows instead of one.

The Council allowed her to use vinyl lettering but declined her request for signage to appear on two windows.

Later that year, in the fall, Wiley painted a sign on the other window, arguing that having signage on both windows created a better aesthetic balance.

But that act displeased several councilmembers, who thought Wiley had violated the ordinance by going against it. Councilman Sydney Verinder argued that allowing signage on both windows would be like tearing down the ordinance shortly after creating it.

"You don't want to gerrymander the little things," Verinder said.

Vienna mayor Jane Seeman said the Council may one day amend the ordinance, but not until it has discovered what works and what doesn't.

"You're in the first stage of this, and I really feel we need to hold the line," Seeman said.