With the coming of summer, you might have noticed a lot more signs throughout the city. Signs for summer sales, events, and even just a lot more signs being placed on buildings (it is the construction season, after all). With that in mind we wanted to take you on a quick overview of our signage requirements. Whether a temporary, permanent, promotional, or event sign, it’s good to know some key aspects of our sign ordinance.
Q: Why does the City of Athens regulate signs at all?
A: Generally, the city regulates signs to promote the health, safety, and welfare of the public. More specifically, we regulate signs for safety, communication efficiency, and landscape quality and preservation.
- Safety – by regulating signs, we help ensure that signs do not create a hazard from poor construction or by providing an obstruction to police and fire operations. Additionally, especially with temporary signs, our regulations help ensure that signs do not create traffic hazards by confusing motorists or impairing their ability to see pedestrians, other vehicles, or traffic signs.
- Communication Efficiency– sign regulation helps the public by ensuring more important signs (such as traffic signs) are given priority over other types of signage. We also ensure that people are not overwhelmed by the number of messages presented.
- Landscape Quality and Preservation– we also try to ensure signs do not interfere with scenic views, do not create a nuisance to neighboring property owners, and are not detrimental to property values.
Q: Where can I find the rules for signs?
A: All of our sign regulations are in Section 41 of the City of Athens Zoning Ordinance. You can find this document on the City’s website.
Q: So which signs need a permit? Which don’t?
A: With few exception, every sign, whether temporary or permanent will need a sign permit. Exempt signs must still conform to other ordinance requirements, however the following sign types do not require a permit:
- Temporary construction signs real estate signs within a certain size
- Memorial plaques
- On-site directional/directory signs within a certain size
- Political signs
- Traffic and other municipal signs
- Temporary special occasion announcements on residential lots (such as birth announcement, graduation announcement) within a certain timeframe
- Religious emblems
- Seasonal decorations for a maximum of 60 days
- Incidental signs
- Menu boards
Q: Are there any signs that just aren’t allowed?
A: You bet. Signs that confuse motorists, or obstruct the view of any official traffic sign or signal are not allowed. Additionally, billboards signs are also not allowed, though several billboards that predate this ordinance still exist. You also cannot post any signs or material to fences or utility poles. We also prohibit moving, flashing or otherwise animated signs. There are other restrictions, but these are the big ones.
Q: What are the basic rules that all signs must follow
A: All signs must be free of any “obscene, indecent, and immoral matter”. No signs should ever be placed in the right of way or obscure sign lines for motorists (whether on a public street or in a parking lot). Additionally, we do not allow off premises signs. If you’re advertising an event or business, that signage must stay on the property that the business or event occupies.
Q: What happens if I don’t get a permit for my sign?
A: Usually we try to make contact with you to ask you to correct the violation. The next step is to issue a letter of violation to notify the property owner that he or she has 10 days to correct the violation. In cases where the property owner is not working towards correcting the violation, the city will issue a citation.
Q: What do you need to get a permit? What’s the cost?
A: For temporary signs, we only need a description of the sign (such as the type of sign and its size) and the location of the sign on the property. For permanent signs, we require a design or schematic that shows the sign location, design, and materials. If there are electrical components, a separate electrical permit will be required. The cost for any sign permit is $20 per sign.
Q: Promotional Signs rules recently changed right?
A: They did. This change took effect on April 23, 2018. Previously, all promotional signs, such as feather flags and banners, were limited to 30 days and were exempt from the permit fee. The ordinance was changed to allow promotional flags to be used for one year with each annual renewal requiring a new permit. The exemption from the fee was removed and promotional signs are required to pay the $20 fee for each permit. The requirement for a permit has always been a requirement.
Q: I see a lot of signs that look like they wouldn’t fit within our requirements. Why are they allowed?
A: There may be several reasons for this. Quite a few signs were in existence before our current zoning ordinance was adopted in 2001. While these signs don’t conform to our ordinance they are legal and considered “grandfathered”. Other signs may have applied for and received a variance from the zoning ordinance. In these cases, certain rules may be set aside by the Zoning Board of Adjustment if they present a hardship for the applicant. Finally, some signs we are aware of and are working with the property owner to address. State and local law requires the City to follow a process that ensures we treat everyone fairly and that process can take time.
Q: What about garage sale signs?
A: We get this question a lot. You are absolutely allowed to put a sign in your yard the day you are having a garage sale. However, any signs that are not in your yard are not allowed. These signs will be removed by the city and you could potentially be fined.
Q: Can I get an exemption from a rule?
A: Absolutely, though there is a process. If you feel a rule related to signs is unfair or is overly burdensome to you, you may apply for a variance. The variance is heard by the Zoning Board of Adjustment and they will determine if the rule places a hardship on you or your business. If they rule in your favor, the burdensome rule can be set aside.
Q: I’ve got a sign question - who do I call?
A: Call the City of Athens Development Services Office at 903-677-6615 or stop by our office at 622 South Prairieville. We’d love to help!