Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Permitting LED Signs - Part 2: Calling the Local Government

This post is a continuation of my Permitting LED Signs series. Part 1 can be viewed here.

In this post, I will focus on calling your local government. This is usually the best method to start with. You can still run into problems and mis-information but it can save some time and effort and get you pointed in the right direction.

In most cases either the City, or County will regulate the sign code for your property address. However, there are some areas where you may be located in the County, but the City still regulates the sign code. This is usually called an ETJ, or Extended Territorial Jurisdiction.
  • Start with the City Planning Department. Every city will have an organization like this in some form or another. They are in charge of zoning, and land use regulations. Go to your city website and look for any links that have to do with Planning and/or Zoning. Most sites will also have a “General Information” line to call if you can’t find the direct number on the website. 
  • Tell them you are interested in permitting an LED Sign, and need to know who governs the sign code for your address. If they do not govern the sign code, they should be able to tell you who does (usually the County) and give you a number for their planning dept.

When you are talking to the planner, use the following guide and keep a pen handy to write down any important information:
  • Determine your Zoning District and write it down for verification.
  • Determine if LED signs are permissible in your district. If not, ask them to point out the specific reference in the sign code.
  • Determine the restrictions required so you can make sure to design and purchase the right size LED sign.
  • The planner may also have access to your property “Plat Drawing” information. This land drawing shows property lines and measurements. If they have it you can get the length of your street frontage. If not they should be able to refer you to someone who can.

If LED signs are allowed, there will be certain restrictions based on square footage, height, content, and display times.
  • The permissibility, height and square footage are usually determined by the Zoning District of your property, then by the linear street frontage of your property line.
  • Be sure to ask them what makes up the "allowable sign area" or "sign square footage". Signs are not always rectangles. They can incorporate many shapes, sizes, trim, pole covers, etc...You need to know how these are dealt with in the city code. Some examples are shown below:
This method only counts the actual signage with text.

This method includes the entire sign design and pole cover

  • Remember,  the methods used will vary so make sure you know how your specific city/county determines sign area.
Sometimes LED signs are specifically prohibited and sometimes they are prohibited by a general description -  I.E. “No signs shall be installed that change messages or color by electrical means...”
  • Be sure to ask the planner to kindly to direct you to the specific ordinance text that forbids them. There are usually multiple references; write them down so you can verify later.
  • Many areas have “special use” permits and/or a “Variance Review” process that can allow organizations with disadvantages or special needs to use signs that wouldn't be allowed otherwise. Be sure to ask the planner about these options and any required paperwork.
Verify the information you receive, good or bad. Humans do make mistakes, and if you feel in any way that the planner isn’t familiar with the sign code, ask to talk to a supervisor and verify. Always be very polite.

Sometimes trying to contact the city government can look overwhelming on the surface, but usually all it takes is a quick call to the general information line to get you in touch with the right person. The people you need to speak to are almost always in the Zoning/Planning department.

My next post (Part 3) will be about researching and verifying the code and regulations yourself. This is usually a good idea, even if the city planner tells you the sign is permissible. Nobody wants to be in a situation where they’ve put down good money for a sign, only to find out that the planner gave you incorrect information.

-Scott Hofheins

* I welcome ALL constructive comments. Please feel free to comment and add anything I’ve missed, or additional tips you may have regarding this topic. Please visit for many other resources, white papers, and of course: Great looking LED Signs!

**All posts/thoughts/writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do
not reflect nor speak for Vantage LED’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc.
unless specifically stated.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great comments on the permitting process. I find it is always helpful to reach out to the city whether I have dealt with them or not. Many times they will give me insights on when is allowed outside of what the ordinance says, or give me a heads-up on any changes coming.

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