Signs Signs Everywhere

Dear Management Doctor: 

I am looking for a good sign ordinance. I know that regulating signs is probably one of the hardest things in local government. We had three sign cases last night before our Zoning Hearing Board (Board of Appeals for all of you outside of PA!!). Any help would be appreciated!

Mark E. Stivers, AICP
East Hempfield Township, PA

Dear Mark,

I'm not a sign expert so hope some of my readers will help you out. My main suggestion is to work closely with your local business community. Look under signs on my website search engine to see my an others' experiences with political signs.

For all those planners who have been burned by signs.

The Management Doctor


Reader Responses

Several years ago I attended the America Beautiful Conference and saw a presentation on the sign ordinance in Germantown, Tennessee. It seemed to be a particularly strong ordinance at the time and may still serve as a good example.

Tammy Rosario
James City County Planning Division


For Mark Stivers with East Hempfield Township, PA I am attaching our Sign Ordinance. As you know these things are under constant revision, however, ours has withstood four or five challenges in court, even through appeals.

Sign Ordinance

Vicki Taylor Lee, AICP
Cherokee County


Look for the one from the City of Las Vegas. (Yes, the City does have one, believe it or not.) I was on the consulting team that updated it a few years ago. Perhaps, the best thing about the update was the fact that the sign industry removed thousands of abandoned and badly damaged signs during the process.

A sad thing was that we decided to grandfather the signs on top of buildings, because we were sentimental about the "Holy Cow" on top of Harry Carey's restaurant. Since then the building was bought as part of a condominium project that didn't get financing. The cow is gone, but we still have the Carpet Giant, the Blue Angel, and other less sentimental icons.

Billboards and the area around the Fremont Street Experience were specifically excluded from the project.

Hope this is helpful.

Polly Carolin, FAICP


Since one sign ordinance does not fit every community, I recommend Street Graphics and the Law by Daniel Mandelker, et al., 2004 (Planning Advisory Service). It has a model sign ordinance and an appendix with about 20 cities across the U.S. that have adopted ordinances based on the Street Graphics Model. A number of cities listed are from your part of the country, e.g. Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.

In formulating sign ordinance provisions for commercial (including industrial) zones, it is important for the local business community to be at the table as specific sign criteria are discussed and proposed. If your Chamber of Commerce has a Government Relations Committee, that forum would be a good place to seek early feedback about existing and proposed commercial sign regulations. It is advisable to have the verbal and written support of some respected business owners and managers before the draft sign ordinance reaches the initial Planning Commission hearing.

Stephen Streeter, AICP
Davis, CA


The City of Lakeland's sign ordinance has worked well.

Lakeland Sign Ordinance

Bruce Kistler, AICP

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