The brightly-lit animated banners streaming across the George Mason University sign at the corner of Braddock and Sideburn roads is doing exactly what it's supposed to do: grabbing the attention of passersby. For many, however, the attention is the wrong kind.
A private meeting is set for Thursday, Sept. 21, between state, county and GMU officials. A few invited community representatives will also be there to discuss the future possibilities for the sign. Dan Walsch, a GMU spokesman, said the university has no plans to consider moving the $325,000 sign at this time. But Del. David Bulova (D-37) said he hopes to convince the school otherwise.
“We’d like to see the sign moved to a more appropriate location,” said Bulova. “It doesn’t fit into the context of the community we’ve worked so hard to build.”
According to Walsch, the university has received more positive feedback about the sign than negative. He said only about 15 complaints have been made, and at this time, the university has no plans to consider moving the sign somewhere else.
“The reaction overall has been very positive; very favorable,” said Walsch. “People just like it. They find it fun to look at, and also very informative.”
BUT RESIDENTS have been making calls into Sharon Bulova’s office and to David Bulova’s office with complaints. Steve Lalley, a resident in the Portsmouth community located just across the street, said he has only heard negative responses from his neighbors.
“I don’t think I’ve spoken to one person who likes it,” said Lalley. “I walked the whole block from Braddock [Road] to my street.”
A closed meeting is scheduled to deal specifically with the sign issue. David Bulova said he hopes to cover all of the bases, including a look into whether the school should have obtained a permit for the sign. Since GMU is a state school, it did not have to obtain permission from the county planning commission to install the sign. But the Code of Virginia reads that a permit is required, said David Bulova, and it also places regulations on signs with running animation. David Bulova said they’re hoping to see if the code can provide the means to have the sign moved.
“My major concern is something that big and flashy, it’s a safety issue,” said David Bulova. “It’s a busy intersection. It’s not a safe place to go and have a sign.”
Lalley said the sign is keeping some neighbors up at night. The lights are so bright, he said, they are reaching into people’s homes. “Some call it light pollution,” he said.
“Why should you be forced to reconfigure your house?” said Lalley. “The only thing they [GMU officials] must have been thinking is ‘we went to the Final Four.’”
Walsch said the university would look into concerns about illumination and the hours of operation, but at this point has no plans to move it. David Bulova said GMU leaders have been very cooperative in meeting with local and state officials, and he’s optimistic that the problem will get resolved.
“The overwhelming sentiment of the community is that it doesn’t belong there,” said Bulova. “We’re [local and state officials] on the front lines of this.”