In today’s competitive, quick-service retail environment, the strength and visibility of a brand image is more important than ever. Signage utilizes the power of visual communications to build the bottom time and keep the image fresh. An eye-catching sign not only attracts new business, it also strengthens brand confidence for new and existing customers.
When developed properly, signage provides the essential information to guide customers through and around a retail property, enhancing the visitor experience and improving traffic patterns through a location. But, it’s more than just creating attractive signs. Proper signage should be specific to the customer experience as they approach and travel through the restaurant or parking lot.
A sign permit is required before most exterior signs are installed. This includes freestanding signs, wall signs, and marquee signs. Awnings with graphics are often considered a sign by town regulations and it isn’t unusual for jurisdictions to require a temporary banner permit. In some cases, electrical permits and zoning permits are also required when applying for permission to post outdoor signs.
In some cases, franchisees may opt for a sign whose design or size is not allowed under the local sign code. If a sign permit application is denied, most jurisdictions will allow the franchisee to apply for a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Here are some reasons a variance would be required:
1. The proposed branding package needs to be easily seen by passing motorists in one or both directions and is hidden by existing buildings, trees, traffic, or other obstructions.
2. The permitted signage could not be seen by passing motorists in time to safely react and stop at the business.
3. Existing signs on nearby parcels are impacting the visibility or advertising impact of a conforming sign on your parcel.
4. Construction of a conforming sign would block motorists’ view of the road or otherwise endanger the health or safety of passers-by.
5. Natural land features would have to be removed or severely altered if a conforming sign was constructed such as removal of trees, alteration of the natural topography, filling of wetlands, or obstruction of a natural drainage course.
6. Variance from certain sign regulations would be offset by increased building setback, increased landscaping, or other such enhancements, so that the overall effect would make the parcel look much better than it would if the sign was built according to code.
7. A taller or larger sign than allowed by the code would be more appropriate in scale because of the large size or frontage of the parcel or building.
When facing any Zoning Board, it’s important to explain the reasons why you have selected the sign design you would like to build. In such cases your signage professional can help you through this process, though in some cases you may also need the services of an attorney.
In the variance application, it is best to demonstrate how the request will not only help your business, but also how granting the request is in the interest of the local community. You can demonstrate how the improvement to your property will contribute to a revitalization of the district itself and how the resulting increases in income and property value will increase local tax revenues. You can also discuss the safety benefits that will result from the enhanced readability of the proposed sign.
Properly navigating sign regulations typically means getting a jump start on the process before construction. Even before asking for a meeting with a city or town official, be sure you understand the community’s specific rules and regulations. It can be helpful to include your signage company in this process since they will likely know the political and regulatory landscape.
The process can often require several months of focused effort and requires a thoughtful strategy for seeking permit approval. Municipalities don’t always see the big picture when it comes
to a specific sign request, but many local officials are willing to work with you to design a solution that works for all parties involved. •
Bill Gavigan, SR. is an account executive for Poyant, a leading provider of signs for Dunkin’ Donuts and other brands in New England and New York