Securing Permits

Despite all your efforts to avoid it, there are times when every sign maker must apply for a sign permit. Regardless of your dislike of the bureaucratic jungle, the situation demands that you bite the bullet and get out your machete. Both you and your client want the process to go as quickly as possible, but unless you are a regular down at the planning office, it is easy to get caught in a quagmire of frustration and delays seemingly designed to trap and devour the unprepared. Here are some basic tips that may help you find your way through the permit jungle.

  • Start by visiting the local government Web site and download appropriate permit application forms. Take note of the Planning and Building department’s address and business hours.
  • Many local government Web sites offer a checklist for assembling a complete sign permit application.  Use it.
  • Search through the municipal code and print out the sections that pertain to signs.
  • Call the planning department and discuss the proposed signage to identify any possible code violations or delay-causing features of your preferred design.
  • Be ready to seek approval from at least two levels—usually from a staff level and/or the Architectural Review Board
  • Staff level approval means that your application will be reviewed within about 30 days. It will either be approved or sent back for revisions.
  • Once reviewed, you can agree to the changes or negotiate a compromise and come away with Planning Review Board approval—usually within a few more days.
  • Seeking an actual Architectural Review or a variance means an additional 30 to 60 days, a public meeting requiring the applicant’s attendance, and additional fees.
  • If you are not the contractor that will be installing the sign, you may need a letter authorizing you to act as their agent.
  • You will need the address, phone and fax numbers of the property owner, business owner and contractor, and you must be prepared to pay the fees.
  • For the building permit application, you may need a copy of the contractor’s license pocket card, proof of worker’s comp insurance, and a certificate of liability insurance.
  • Keep the original copies in a folder, and make a new set of copies for each permit application. Don’t forget to update them when licenses or insurance are renewed.
  • Make copies of the completed application form and a set of drawings for your file.