What does my sign ordinance say?

03.15.2007

This is a question cities love to hear. The only people who ask this question are genuinely interested in doing things right, even their signage. So expect cooperation from city or county officials when you make contact.

Sadly many civil workers and even some installers do not actually know what the ordinance for there area says. It is in the best interests of a business however to double check that all criteria are met before ordering a sign. It does noone any good to pay for a sign that is too large or the wrong type only to find the city will not issue a permit for its installation.

First, always get a permit. This may seem obvious but city officials are busy and may not notice a sign go up. This does not mean that the sign is in compliance with the ordinance. In one recent case a sign had been installed in the mid eighties. No one ever applied for the permit or checked the ordinance. The building was bought and sold several times. Finally in 2005 a new community conscious owner, who had assumed that the sign on his property could be used as he saw fit found that when he applied with the city to change the face panel he could not do so. In fact, since the sign was never recorded with the city and did not conform to the ordinance it had to be completely removed and replaced at great expense. Avoid problems like this by simply checking the sign ordinance and complying with its guidelines.

Second, read the ordinance carefully. Most ordinances follow the same basic formula. First should come a definition of what different sign types are. Select your sign type from this list i.e. wall sign or monument sign. Then check the ordinance section for that particular sign type. The information in this section should include the maximum size, whether the sign can be internally lighted or not and other criteria (in Jackson Hole for instance the color yellow is prohibited). In addition this section should include the zones that the sign type is approved for. In most cases C stands for commercial M for manufacture R for residential etc. Does the zone your business is located in allow for the type of sign you want? If you have a question ask a city planner to explain the particular terms or guidelines for you. Remember you pay them via your taxes for just such information.

Many sign ordinances are easily found and downloaded online. In some cases a town is too small to have its own ordinance. In cases like this make sure the county ordinance does not apply before assuming you can do what you want. Most small towns approve signs through a meeting with the planning commission or council. If the town makes individual decisions at planing and zoning meetings then you should be well received as towns appreciate new business and tax revenue. However, in these meetings it is best to present ones sign desires carefully since many people dont realize new business is a good thing. Clear drawings and measurments will help. Tip: make a copy for every member of the board.

Either way it is important to realize that what is written in the Sign Ordinance is the law. What someone tells you is not the law. Be cordial and respectful while firm in your discussions with city planners. They will usually try to help you solve your problems and give good advice. In the rare instance where this is no the case the only thing that will save you is knowing what the law actually is. If a planner tells you you can have 20% of your building facade as signage and the law reads 10% guess who will be city, not the planner. On the other hand if a planner is new or misunderstands the ordinance and says you can only have 5% of your facade as signage only being well versed in the ordiance will allow you to tactfully correct them and get your permit. Good Hunting.

 

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