On the surface, sign permitting seems like it’d be pretty straightforward. You have a sign. You want to put it on the wall. Why would anyone have a problem with that?
Well, unfortunately, it’s not that easy. There are rules and restrictions that define what is and is not allowed for a location.
The first consideration is a Master Sign Program. If you’re a shopping center or mall retailer, your signage will likely need to comply with the established Master Sign Program. A Master Sign Program is a pre-approved template that defines the location and specifications (e.g., dimensions, materials, electrical systems, etc.) for signage throughout a space.
The benefit of a Master Sign Program is the city or jurisdiction has already approved the signage rules. This means you won’t need an additional permit so long as your signage satisfies the program criteria.
If your location doesn’t fall under the purview of a master sign program, you must comply with jurisdiction restrictions, sign covenants, and zoning laws. Jurisdiction planning committees tend to be very diligent about the sightlines of their community. And, while exceptions to the rules are made, you’ll have an uphill battle convincing them to change the rules for you.
Understanding Signage Requirements
Follow these four steps to uncover what’s allowed and not allowed when it comes to your signage.
1. Check For A Master Sign Program
If you’re in a location with a master sign program, your first step is to request a copy, if you don’t already have it. The location owner should be able to provide it to you. Review the master sign program for what is permissible regarding different signage.
If what you’re planning and what you’re allowed don’t align, your first call is to the location owner to discuss what you’re planning and get their sign-off. The jurisdiction will require the owner’s signature to obtain your sign permit.
2. What Zone Are You In?
The type of zone your location is in will determine the signage allowed. So, before starting your application, research the zone for your location.
Most cities, especially major metropolitan areas, offer zone maps or tools to help you uncover your location’s zone type. For example, the City of Los Angeles offers zimas.lacity.org. Enter your location address and get all your zoning details.
3. Research Your Jurisdiction Sign Code
Once you know the type of zone you’re in, the next step is to research your jurisdiction’s sign code. Googling “[CITY] Sign Code” will often surface the information needed. But, if you can’t find any online, or it appears outdated, it’s a good idea to contact the city or county planning department and request the information.
Check if your signs are mandated to be a specific size according to each city or county’s sign or building or zoning code. Most questions from the planning department are related to size and landscaping.
If your sign doesn’t align with the established code, you may need to secure an entitlement, which is permission to enjoy the full legal use of the land for the proposed purposes. Entitlements are a completely different process and will likely add weeks or months to your project.
4. Apply For Your Sign Permits
The final step is to complete the application for your sign permits. Most jurisdictions will have an application form that details what documentation and signatures need to be submitted along with the completed forms.
Pay attention to what you’re requested to send. Incomplete applications will get denied and sent back, delaying your approval by weeks and sometimes months.
How To Get Sign Permit Approvals Quickly
Permit Place has helped thousands of businesses across the United States secure sign permit approvals. The following is a list of tips and best practices we employ to get signs approved quickly.
Before Submitting Your Sign Permit Application
- Check that the drawings include a title bar with the correct address and location.
- Check that you’ve included a site plan with your documentation. If you don’t, stop and get or create one. Most cities and counties will not approve a sign permit without a site plan.
- Ensure your drawings can be read and are not blurry or too small. In other words, don’t use 8 ½ x 11 pieces of paper. Go big or go home.
- Make sure all signs include specific and precise dimensions (e.g., height, width and depth).
- Include the height and width of the signs in relation to the wall. These are called “Elevations.”
- Define the method of connecting your signage directly in the drawings.
- Call out if the sign will require electrical, and provide specifics about the electrical components. This must include the number of circuits required and how you plan to run electrical to the sign.
- Detail the type of material the sign will be made of.
- Note how many signs you have and number them on the plans. If you have a menu board, a wall sign and a directional sign, number them, and make sure that order is included on your title page.
- Explain the sign footing details (if relevant). A footing is a hole filled with concrete and reinforced by steel. If they ask to see the engineering calculations, you may need to pull in your architect or engineer to provide the information. You do not have to pretend you know what they mean, but provide accurate information.
- Include at least one color drawing that corresponds to the correct site on the plans.
When Submitting Your Sign Permit Application
- Check which departments you need to submit applications to. In some situations, you may need to submit separate applications to the building and city planning departments. For example, in California, the planning department will ensure that your sign meets codes, restrictions, allowed square footage, and more. They may also approve the sign, but the building department may be the one to issue the permit.
- Set your timelines appropriately. You may need to account for multiple department reviews and approvals. And, like everyone else, jurisdictions are short staffed and often backlogged.
- Be familiar with nearby signage. As part of the approval process, you may be asked about the location of existing signage in the area. Have your answers ready because most jurisdictions want to know what exists and how your proposed signage will fit in.
- The jurisdiction may require that you convert inches to square feet. For a quick math refresher, here’s the process:
- Convert the height from inches to feet (inches x 12)
- Convert the width from inches to feet (inches x 12)
- Multiply the height by width (h x w)
- Finally, be kind and respectful. The individuals you’re working with are dedicated professionals doing their best. You’ll be surprised how far a little kindness can get you.
If you need any sign-permitting help, let us know. Our team of professionals have helped thousands of businesses secure sign permits across the country.