Sign Code Case Studies

ISA tracks sign code developments across the country and its "rapid response" service helps sign companies and local officials enact reasonable and beneficial sign codes. This collection of sign code case studies can be used to help provide guidance for sign companies as they work with local officials to create positive sign codes. Contact ISA's Kenny Peskin with questions.

Each case study identifies the issue, locale and outcome, providing valuable resources and guidance for members facing similar issues.

Please use the links below to jump to the sign code issue you'd like to view.

EMCs: Single Color Only on Black

EMCs: Hourly Message Change

EMCs: Regulation of Content Displayed

Historic Design Review Approval

Listing Marks: UL Only

Maintenance of Nonconforming Signs

Mercury Reduction: Neon Phase-Out

Window Signage Regulations

Pedestrian-Scale Sign Sizes

Permits: Applications Not Approved Quickly

Pole Signs Prohibited

Redevelopment Regulations Impacting Existing Business

Sign Engineering

State DOT Regulating On-Premise


Has your company recently faced a compliance, legislative or regulatory issue? Share your experience with your fellow ISA members.

Contact Kenny Peskin at (703) 836-4012 or [email protected] for more information.

 


EMCs: Single Color Only on Black


JURISDICTION(S)

  • Stafford County, Virginia

ISA BELIEVES

  • Objections to "tv quality" high resolution images should not extend to objections to all images
  • Logos and pictures are no more obtrusive than alphanumeric characters
  • Businesses should be allowed to display federally registered trademarks on their sign

ISA ACCOMPLISHMENTS

  • ISA advocacy resulted in County amending proposal to allow for display of corporate logos


OTHER RESOURCES

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EMCs: Hourly Message Change


JURISDICTION(S)

  • Stafford, Virginia
  • Virginia Beach, Virginia

ISA BELIEVES

  • EMCs commonly display important updates that cannot be restricted to one-hour intervals while ensuring accuracy of the information (e.g. price signs and time/temperature displays).
  • Brightness of signs is unrelated to whether the display is full color or monochrome.
  • Most higher-quality EMCs have full color capability. Limiting EMCs to monochrome will result in primarily red or amber displays, thus restricting visual variety.

ISA ACCOMPLISHMENTS

  • Stafford County passed proposal that allowed for display of up to 4 colors w/o restriction on background

OTHER RESOURCES

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EMCs: Regulation of Content Displayed


JURISDICTION(S)

  • Stafford County, VA

ISA BELIEVES

  • Logos and pictures are no more obtrusive than alphanumeric characters
  • Businesses should be allowed to display federally registered trademarks on their sign

ISA ACCOMPLISHMENTS

  • ISA advocacy resulted in County amending proposal to allow for display of corporate logos

OTHER RESOURCES

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Historic Design Review Approval


JURISDICTION(S)

  • Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
  • Lockport, New York
  • Elizabeth City, North Carolina

ISA BELIEVES

  • Well-written ordinance should clearly outline allowable size and design, minimizing need for subject oversight
  • Design review creates a delay in sign approval
  • Long delays can result in a "Prior restraint"
  • Boards in small communities that meet less frequently than 1/month may be unable to ensure timely review of applications
  • Historic review may be defensible if demonstrated that regulations cover all aspects of visual landscape, not just signs

ISA ACCOMPLISHMENTS

  • Resulted in Lockport Council abandoning historic review board proposal in 2009
  • Elizabeth City proposal revised to accurately capture historically appropriate signage forms and color palatte

OTHER RESOURCES

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Listing Marks: UL Only


JURISDICTION(S)

  • Mobile, Alabama

ISA BELIEVES

  • "U.L." is a trade name, not a generic term
  • UL is one of many Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTL) approved by OSHA under federal law
  • Other NRTLs (such as CSA, ETL, MET Labs) must be accepted on par with UL -The National Electric Code (produced by NFPA) establishes safety standards; the UL Sign Accessories Manual provides a guide to build signs to meet those NEC standards.
  • Municipalities legally can require that signs carry a label of a NRTL -Signs are certified and carry a NRTL label, manufacturers do not; An NRTL-certified sign manufacturer also can build non-NRTL signs without any labels

ISA ACCOMPLISHMENT

  • (still in progress)

OTHER RESOURCES

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Maintenance of Nonconforming Signs


JURISDICTION(S)

  • Spokane, Washington

ISA BELIEVES

  • Proper maintenance of signs requires regular inspections, repainting, and replacement of electrical & structural components
  • Failure to maintain any sign accelerates deterioration
  • Deteriorated signs fail to serve public's interest in safety
  • Many older sign components are no longer manufactured; Replacement components may be considered "upgraded" components, triggering nonconformity requirements
  • Common ordinance threshold (requiring replacement of sign if more than 50% of cost is modified) can lead to inadequate or stop-gap repairs to older signs

ISA ACCOMPLISHMENTS
 

  • Spokane changed draft ordinance to remove all language that restricted the ability to maintain signs and replace/update electrical components

OTHER RESOURCES

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Mercury Reduction: Neon Phase-Out


JURISDICTION(S)

  • Vermont
  • Connecticut
  • Rhode Island
  • Louisiana

ISA BELIEVES

  • Dosing limits must be sufficient to allow neon tubes to operate properly
  • Most states that have proposed phase-out of mercury-added products exempt CFLs from the regulations that will apply to neon and cold cathode tubes
  • For some applications and installations, neon tubes clearly remain the best lighting option
  • Eliminating neon tubes as a lighting option removes a viable and important lighting technology

ISA ACCOMPLISHMENTS

  • Rhode Island approved temporary ISA exemption from mercury phasedown limits in 2009
  • State Senate introduced ISA-written legislation creating permament exemption

OTHER RESOURCES

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Window Signage Regulations


JURISDICTION(S)

  • Dallas, Texas
  • Baltimore County, Maryland

ISA BELIEVES

  • Most sign ordinances only regulate outdoor signage
  • Subjective and difficult to enforce if interior signage is geared toward store patrons or passers-by
  • Restricting window signage, but allowing merchandise displays hurts service businesses
  • Municipalities may have practical difficulties restricting signage for government agencies (post office, lottery commission)

ISA ACCOMPLISHMENTS

  • Baltimore County eliminated provisions on window signage from proposal

OTHER RESOURCES

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Pedestrian-Scale Sign Sizes


JURISDICTION(S)

  • Prince George's County, Maryland

ISA BELIEVES

  • Sign size should be a function of the environment
  • Businesses located on roads with high-speed vehicular traffic need "motorist-scale" signage"
  • Illumination creates sense of activity and excitement in entertainment and retail districts

ISA ACCOMPLISHMENTS

  • ISA advocacy resulted in allowance for illuminated channel letters
  • ISA lobbying of Council led to reevaluation of "legislative intent" language in ordinance proposal"

OTHER RESOURCES

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Permits: Applications Not Approved Quickly


JURISDICTION(S)

  • Virginia Beach, Virginia

ISA BELIEVES

  • Court precedents include commercial signs within protections of 1st Amendment speech
  • Protected free speech means that a speaker has the freedom to speak in a timely, public manner
  • Inability (or unwillingness) to provide approval to speak within a reasonable time frame constitutes a "prior restraint" on free speech
  • "Prior Restraints" may be caused either by the inability to process a permit application or the procedural requirements themselves

ISA ACCOMPLISHMENTS

  • Industry opposition resulted in City passing new approval process for permit applications

OTHER RESOURCES

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Pole Signs Prohibited


JURISDICTION(S)

  • Fayetteville, North Carolina

ISA BELIEVES

  • Effective visual communication depends on ability of sign to be seen by motorists and pedestrians
  • Low signs (with copy < 5 ft above grade) cannot be seen as efficiently due to obstructions from vehicles, landscaping, and street furniture
  • Compulsory replacement of fully-functioning signs for existing businesses represents a regulatory "tax" on business community

ISA ACCOMPLISHMENTS
 

  • ISA research and documents helped local Chamber justify opposition to proposed requirements

OTHER RESOURCES

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Redevelopment Regulations Impacting Existing Business


JURISDICTION(S)

  • Toledo, Ohio

ISA BELIEVES

  • Protection of free speech depends on all speakers being granted equal ability to speak
  • Favoring one commercial speaker over another raises enforcement issues
  • Municipal interests favor the full utilization of commercially zoned property; regulations that cause business decline run counter to municipal interest

ISA ACCOMPLISHMENTS

  • ISA Funding Assistance Plan helped consortium of local sign companies hire attorney to lobby against proposal

OTHER RESOURCES

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Sign Engineering


JURISDICTION(S)

  • Cleveland, Tennessee

ISA BELIEVES

  • Engineering requirements are intended to protect public against danger of poorly installed or constructed signs
  • For small, low-to-the-ground signs, no significant danger exists in event of sign failure
  • At a cost of several hundred dollars, custom engineering calculations will greatly increase the cost of smaller nonelectric signs
  • Standardized sign engineering provides a cost-effective solution for many ground and high-rise signs

ISA ACCOMPLISHMENTS

  • Tennessee BAEE revised propsal to exempt smaller signs (up to 6' and 50 sq. ft.) from engineering requirements
  • Tennessee Building Officials Association negotiating to accept standardized sign engineering for most permit applications

OTHER RESOURCES

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State DOT Regulating On-Premise


JURISDICTION(S)

  • Onio DOT
  • Montana DOT

ISA BELIEVES

  • On-premise signs are (and should remain) exempt from highway beautification provisions and controls
  • Establishing permitting and spacing requirements for on-premise signs will deprive property owners from fully utilizing their own property

ISA ACCOMPLISHMENTS

  • Opposition caused Ohio DOT to omit language dealing with on-premise signs from 2008 regulatory amendments

OTHER RESOURCES

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Did you know?

Over the past 6 years, ISA has dedicated $7.1 million to advocacy efforts to protect members' interests and educate legislators locally and nationally.