How big can a sign be without planning and permitting?
As you probably guessed, the answer is “it depends.” But, we can shed a little light on what exactly it depends on.
Outfitting a space with signage can seem like an overwhelming mess of tasks, from budgeting to finding the right signmaker to navigating sign permits. One of the most frustrating parts can be relying on other organizations to give you information you need – like trying to figure out your city’s rules and regulations while going through a sign-speak learning curve.
We’ve got a few tips to make the process less painful, and help you get to the nitty gritty of a simple question: How big can a sign be without going through a planning and permitting process?
How the style of a sign impacts sign permitting requirements
Different sign styles come with different requirements in most areas’ sign code. For example, a hanging sign that is suspended over a walkway may require an engineer’s review. How big a hanging sign can be is also determined by how much clearance you’re required to leave beneath it (don’t want anyone to be bumping their heads!) and how high up you can mount your sign bracket.
A wall sign that’s mounted flat against your storefront, though, might not need an engineer’s sign off (get it? Sign off). Depending on the surface area available, you also might be able to make the sign bigger than if it were hanging from a bracket.
Obviously, each style of outdoor sign comes with pros and cons, but knowing a bit about the potential permitting requirements for each type can help you decide what’s best for you and your business.
Finding your local planning and permitting sign code
While each city has their own requirements for sign permits, starting with some measurements can help prepare you to find the answer. We often see cities using the linear footage of a storefront to run a calculation on how many square feet of signage a business is allowed. That formula should be listed in your area’s code so you can run the numbers on the maximum size your sign can be without planning and permitting.
Keep in mind that some cities count both sides of a hanging sign against your allowable sign size. So, a two foot by two foot sign may only take up four square feet on the viewline, but has eight square feet of advertising space.
Digging through local government documents isn’t exactly a thrilling way to pass the time. When we’re looking up planning information for a client, we usually find their city’s municipal code, and use command+F to search the page or document for “sign code” and “sign permit”.
How HOAs and Landlords impact sign permitting requirements
Whether your building is in an HOA or you’re renting from someone, many multi-unit buildings have a formal sign plan in place that you’ll be required to follow. These sign plans are usually created at the same time as the building was zoned for commercial use, and sometimes the sign plan is even a deciding factor in whether or not a city will allow a building to be zoned certain ways.
If you have a copy of the sign plan on hand, great! Compare those notes with your city’s sign permit and you should be able to create a sort of sign venn-diagram of planning rules.
If you don’t have a copy, asking for one before you start ordering signage not only makes you look more legit to your landlord or HOA, but it can save you a whole lot of time and money as you plan for signage.