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Mastering Signage Code Research: Unlocking the Path to Successful Signage Projects

The Role of Code Research in Signage Projects

Signage code research is a multifaceted and client-specific process. Successfully navigating the complex municipal codes unique to each township requires the expertise of an experienced signage team. Thorough and well-executed code research is the key to a streamlined and successful signage project, ultimately contributing to the prosperity of the client's business. By understanding the rules, communicating effectively, and exploring variance options, a signage project can overcome challenges and maximize customer impact within the bounds of local regulations.

Designs for code displayed on two computer monitors.

Code research is a critical yet often overlooked aspect when starting an exterior sign project. There are nearly 20,000 municipalities in the United States, each with its own distinct regulations and restrictions pertaining to signage. We’ll highlight key considerations and questions that must be addressed during code research to ensure a successful signage project.

Understanding and Applying the Code:

The first step in code research is uncovering local municipalities' regulations and applying them to the clients' ideal sign plan. Regulations commonly apply to the size (sq.ft.) of signage, the number of signs allowed, the setback from public right-of-ways, and the type of illumination permitted. Keeping the client's branding standards, signage specifications, and unique property features at the forefront while reviewing code is crucial to uncovering all relevant regulations and maintaining brand integrity.

Time Management:

Aligning signage installation with your location opening, renovation completion or brand deployment all begins with timely and efficient code research. Knowing the documentation and approvals needed for permitting, as well as the expected timelines, is vital. Some municipalities may require stamped drawings by an engineer or electrician, and approval may involve multiple departments beyond zoning and building, such as historical or art commissions. Familiarity with the application review timelines enables better synchronization with the client's construction schedule. Additionally, understanding the appeals process is crucial in case of any denials.

Handling Limitations:

Open communication with local officials is essential when navigating the limitations imposed by municipal codes. Open dialogue allows for verification of code interpretation and application in signage design and navigating the limitations. In some cases, clients' signage and branding can be strategically adjusted to maximize visibility and within the limitations. Structuring a logo or stacking branded elements can be all it takes to meet regulations. If, however, an acceptable signage plan cannot be developed within the limitations of the municipal code, a variance may be another option.

Example of square foot calculations for permitting.

Navigating the Variance Process:

When all other options are exhausted, many municipalities provide an option to apply for a variance from the municipal code. Variances are granted or denied during a regularly held hearing in which applicants can plead their cases to the public. Navigating the variance process demands extensive experience and attention to detail. Understanding the timeline of the application and meetings, the associated fees, obtaining legal representation if needed, and researching previous hearings to understand community values are all factors that need to be considered in the variance process. The success of obtaining a variance often hinges on the ability to plead a case for hardship effectively to the municipality and demonstrating the positive economic impact the client's business will bring to the community.


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