Most cities and counties have created sign regulations and ordinances to address the use of digital displays. As new technologies emerge, zoning officials are also facing the challenges for LED signage regulations.
Sign regulations are important in order to protect property values, reduce traffic hazards caused by undue distractions, preserve the atmosphere of residential neighborhoods, and lessen the risks of unregulated displays. It helps to address potential safety, aesthetic and light pollution impacts.
In Zoning District Ordinances, one can find the areas where digital signs are permitted and where they are prohibited. Most commonly prohibited areas are those in the neighborhood commercial districts, historic districts, and in close proximity to residential neighborhoods.
Sign manufacturers and sign owners have to comply with the city's sign regulations.
For LED Sign Permits, you also have to know about obtaining and researching the code yourself. This allows you to learn the right code so you can verify especially if the city planner isn't too familiar with the sign code.
Major Steps in LED Sign Permit Research
Understand these initial steps before diving into the sign code to save time and make the entire process as smooth as possible.
- Determine your property's zoning district
- Determine who regulates your sign code
- Determine your property “Plat Map” or line locations and measurements
- Determine the Sign Code
Sign code can be obtained thru the following ways:
- Check the code in the Zoning, Development, or Land Use section of your city or counties website.
- Search Google for the "Sign Code ‘city name’ or “Municipal Code."
- Visit these two code providers websites: www.municode.com or www.amlegal.com
Most Sign Codes usually consist of these areas:
- General Regulations
- Zoning Districts Specific Rules
- Special Districts Specific Rules
- Prohibited Signs
- Special Exemptions and Miscellaneous Regulations
Tip: Read thru the Prohibited section would save you more time. Afterwards, proceed through the General Sections to know the specific regulations for your zoning district.
Specific Sign Code Regulations
1. Types of signs allowed
LED signs commonly use these terms:
- Electronic Message Centre
- Electronic Changeable Copy Signs
- LED Message Centre
- Electronic Marquee
- Scrolling Message Centre
- Scrolling Sign
- Electronic Billboards
General signage commonly use these terms:
- Monument Signs: low lying signs with no base and without visible pole or structure.
- Pole Signs, or Pylon Signs: signs on the poles placed high up on the ground
- Building or Roof Sign: signs mounted on the building itself
- Multi-Tenant Signs: signs that advertise several businesses
- Sandwich Boards or A-frame signs: Sidewalk signs that are portable and can be repositioned
- Road work or Directional Signs: Signs that help re-direct or inform traffic
2. Allowable surface area calculation
The allowed surface area or spacing requirement and provisions should be considered. It is important to note where your property line is because the sidewalk is often within the right-of-way. Having the "Plat Map" provides you with the official measurement of your street frontage. This is usually expressed in this way, "... 5 square ft allowed, per linear foot of street frontage, not to exceed 60 square feet...”
Some ordinances may limit a percentage of the sign face that can be used for digital display.
3. Number of signs allowed on the property
Most sign ordinances allow signs depending on the number of “street frontage” you have on your property.
4. Required setback for a property line
Setbacks are required minimum distances between a building and the front, side, exterior side, or rear property line. Check the General Section to know how far back from the property line can the sign be placed.
5. Illumination and brightness
These specific restrictions address the legibility and brightness of a sign both during the day and after dark. This reduces glare between the sign face and the surrounding area during the day. At night, this prevents the sign’s impact on driver distraction. Some require signs to have automatic dimming capability.
6. Message duration and transition
Check if the sign code ordinance requires a minimum duration of time that a single message must be displayed. Some may limit how often messages can change on a digital sign to address traffic, pedestrian or cyclist safety concerns.
Other specific code regulations
You can also check other code regulations to answer the following questions you might have such as:
- What is counted as “sign” surface area?
- What is counted as just “structure”?
- What are the dimensions and maximum sign size allowed?
- If LED signs are not allowed, is there a variance process?
- What is the required distances between digital signs and traffic conflict points?
The permitting process is a great opportunity for you to gain essential insights into the "best practices" required for signage. If you're a sign dealer, this can even pave way to be of help for future clients who will go through the process.
This is also a valuable resource for every LED sign manufacturer. It lets you meet the required LED sign features that will put your client's mind at ease.
At the end of the day, working with the right digital sign partners and doing your own research will bring a significant different during the permitting process. Getting into the sign code regulation itself can be a challenge and time consuming. But knowing the regulations of your property and sign is always worth the extra effort.