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The Red Tape Around Self-Storage Signage: Zoning, Ordinances, Codes and More

The best way to avoid hassles and the loss of precious time and money when you want to display or install a sign at your self-storage facility is to understand your jurisdiction’s codes, permits and variances. Here are some important questions to consider when it comes to signage and zoning.

By Abhi Goyal

Before you display or install a sign at your self-storage facility, make sure it complies with local ordinances. The best way to avoid hassles and the loss of precious time and money is to perform the due diligence before a design is complete. Expert knowledge of codes, permits and variances helps prevent unnecessary and time-consuming meetings with approval organizations. It also ensures the installation of your sign will be on time and on budget. There’s nothing worse than delays!

Local governments, such as counties or municipalities, usually control zoning. It’s crucial to be aware of zoning districts and permits, allowances, and any restrictions on size type, size or placement. Even if you’re working with a sign professional, it’s good to have this basic knowledge to anticipate any potential challenges. Here are 10 important questions to consider when it comes to signage and zoning.

1. Why do I need to know my zoning district when obtaining a sign permit?

Sign regulations differ based on the type of zoning district in which the sign will be located. For example, regulations for industrial districts can be very different from those for mixed-use development districts. In addition, special overlay and conditional districts, such as a pedestrian overlay, can have specific sign regulations.

2. What signs are allowed in my zoning district?

Refer to your district zoning ordinances to learn about sign location and size, number of signs permitted onsite, and the types of lighting allowed.

3. How much control does my municipality have over signage design?

In general, acceptable design criteria is based on factors like the property zoning and where you’re placing your sign.

4. How big can a sign be?

The maximum size allowed is determined by factors like your zoning district the total square footage of the building(s) to which the sign will be attached. Special areas such as commercial urban pedestrian, commercial urban transit station and commercial urban uptown mixed-use development districts can also have restrictions on signage size.

5. How do I calculate the sign area?

Figuring out the sign area is complicated. To avoid frustration, hassles and mistakes, this is best left to your sign company to calculate.

6. Under what circumstances can I use a sign larger than the maximum height or area allowed in my zoning district?

A sign that’s larger than what’s allowed in an ordinance can sometimes be “grandfathered” if it was present prior to the current ordinance. In some circumstances, such as a property sale, signs may be allowed to remain if any work on the sign is considered routine maintenance. You may need to remove existing signs that don’t conform to current standards if substantial alterations are made to a building façade or when you obtain a new sign permit. In some instances, installing signs larger than what’s allowed in the ordinance can be approved by receiving variances.

7. Where on the property can a sign be placed?

Generally, signs must be located out of the right of way and what’s known as a “sight-distance triangle.” This is the area needed to clear site obstructions for safe vehicle-turning movements. Sight-distance requirements affect the location of all obstructions, including signs, landscaping, fencing, parking, buildings and other improvements.

8. Do you need a permit if you want to change the face of an existing sign?

A permit usually isn’t necessary to reface an existing sign; however, you may need one to alter the size or structure of the sign, or if you’re removing or replacing it.

9. Do you need a permit to perform maintenance on an existing sign?

You don’t need a permit if you’re doing basic maintenance like necessary, non-structural repairs.

10. Can I display a temporary banner on my building?

Temporary banners are usually allowed as long as they conform to zoning ordinances. These ordinances usually set standards that allow banners without permits for a specific time frame per year. The ordinance also controls how the banner can be attached to a building wall. You can also use banners for special events in connection to religious, charitable, civic, fraternal or similar organizations as long as they comply with ordinances.

The easiest way to avoid headaches connected with sign ordinances is to work with a professional sign company, even before the creation stage. A reputable supplier will be your new best friend, with expertise in researching sign codes in great detail and, if needed, filing for any necessary variances.

Abhi Goyal is senior vice president of Blink Signs, which offers exterior and interior signs for self-storage and other businesses. His education in marketing and business statistics has helped bring practical solutions to the company’s clients. For more information, call 989.506.2232; visit

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