By: Rory Juneman, Esq.
The City of Tucson (“City”) recently adopted a major amendment to its Sign Code that took effect February 1, 2018. The amendment is the first significant and much-needed update to the Sign Code in decades. The final, adopted amendment was the culmination of a year-plus effort by the City’s Planning and Development Services Department (“PDSD”) and stakeholder engagement to revise the Sign Code. The business community was actively involved in this process and the changes reflect that involvement. Below is an explanation of why the City began this effort and some highlights of the changes.
The U.S. Supreme Court and sign regulations
This effort began as a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert. In Reed, the Court held that municipalities cannot impose “content-based” regulations on signage unless the regulation is narrowly tailored to further a compelling government interest (the most difficult standard of judicial review to meet). For the City, Reed meant that the Sign Code’s content-based regulations – such as those for real estate and political signs – likely violated the First Amendment’s free-speech protections and needed to be removed.
In addition to the Reed issues, City staff and various stakeholders had become concerned that the Sign Code was overly complicated, outdated, inflexible and too prescriptive, leaving little room for creativity. To address all of these issues, Mayor and Council directed PDSD to update the Sign Code to both comply with Reed and simplify and modernize the City’s signage regulations. After a year of stakeholder meetings and public hearings before the Planning Commission and Citizens Sign Code Committee, the Mayor and Council unanimously adopted the Sign Code amendments on December 5, 2017.
Highlights of the Sign Code update
One of the main reasons to update the Sign Code was to simplify the regulation and provide flexibility for local businesses to design signage specific to a site or use. Below are highlights of some of those changes:
- Master Sign Program (“MSP”): allows a development to propose a unified, site-specific sign package that can deviate from technical Sign Code provisions as long as the MSP meets certain standards. A proposed MSP will be reviewed by the newly created Sign Design Review Committee (“SDRC”) and approved by the PDSD Director. The MSP has the potential to help larger projects, such as retail centers and master-planned developments, which have unique site and signage needs.
- Single Sign Design Option: allows design flexibility for one specific permanent sign without a variance. Sign design is reviewed by the SDRC and approved by the PDSD Director.
- Business District Signage: the regulations for signage in commercial and office zones have been simplified and now provide consistent signage allotment based on street frontage length.
- Premises Definition: the definition of premises has been expanded to allow for adjacent developments under separate development plans to be considered one premises for signage purposes (i.e., can share common signage).
- Parapet Signs: signs placed on a parapet wall are allowed as a wall sign.
In addition to the substantive changes, the Sign Code is now considered a land-use regulation within the Unified Development Code as Chapter 7A rather than Chapter 3 of the City Code.
Lazarus, Silvyn & Bangs was involved throughout the entire amendment and stakeholder process. So, if you are working on any signage within the City of Tucson and need assistance navigating these new regulations, we look forward to assisting you!