Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


Since we last looked in on Arlington anti-sign vigilante Robert Lauderdale, the man has been arrested. What my high school classmate considers a green hobby to reduce suburban litter will now saddle him with a court date and thousands of dollars in legal fees.

His feud is with the new Crescent Apartments near I-66 at the Arlington-Falls Church border. For months the property’s managers have deployed a weekend army of sign emplacers and roadside twirlers endeavoring to lure motorists into exploring the “luxury living” of the handsome but not fully occupied residences near Metro and a park.

Lauderdale, I’m told, has been harassing the sign contractors hired by parent corporation UDR, shouting and getting aggressive in his insistence that many temporary real estate advertisements mounted on sticks are illegally on state or public property.

So the Crescent contractors snapped a photo of Lauderdale’s license plate, and the managers filed a complaint. The result was a warrant for a felony grand larceny, charging Lauderdale with “stealing 240 leasing advertising signs valued at $200 or more” from March 5 to June 5.

As the arrestee tells it, he first got an afternoon phone call from a detective requesting his presence. Lauderdale said he’d be happy to come down before or after work the next day. (A white-collar information technology specialist, Lauderdale keeps his bosses informed of his adventures in the sign wars.)

Instead, as he slept the night of June 10, he got the proverbial knock on the door at 4:58 a.m. Three officers, flashlights in hand as they surveyed his apartment, searched him, handcuffed him and drove him to the county jail, where he was booked and fingerprinted. (He had to take the Metro home.) Earlier in the week, his landlord was paid a visit by an officer who asked him to tell Lauderdale to stop stealing signs. The landlord described Lauderdale as a model tenant.

Crescent, for its part, has gotten conflicting information throughout this ordeal from county inspectors. But its marketers have changed their practices-no more balloons or flags or overly abundant signs. Lauderdale takes some credit for the stepped-up county enforcement. He says he’s been contacting neighbors with flyers reading, “These illegal signs have been put up every weekend for the past 12 weeks,” giving a case number and requesting they call zoning administrators.

The anti-sign guerrilla considers the charges of stealing “bogus,” saying many of the signs get taken by annoyed neighbors, blown away or “knocked down by drunks.”

Ironically, this clash comes just as the county government is coming off a spring series of public hearings on new commercial sign regulations (though they focus more on retailers than on temporary signs on telephone poles and median strips).

Zoning administrator Melinda Artman appreciates Lauderdale, saying, “Crescent Apartments has put out multiple oversize signs on public property where they don’t belong.” Their cooperation has improved, however. She prefers Lauderdale’s written reports over his e-mailed photos, which have crashed her computer.

The charges are serious, especially since authorities in the past have asked Lauderdale to cease his amateur efforts at eyesore-law enforcement.

But Lauderdale believes he’s acting on principle. “This is what happens to you when you try to work within the system,” he says as his attorney prepares for a July 14 court date.

One well might ask, what price uncluttered sidewalks?


Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at cclarkjedd@aol.com