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Thread: Nonconforming sign compliance

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Nonconforming sign compliance

    If a local government establishes a new ordinance that in effect makes a sign nonconforming - is that local government required to provide some time for the owner of that sign to modify and make the sign conforming or allow the sign to be grandfathered and become legally nonconforming?

    Or, can a local government mandate that all nonconforming signs must be removed essentially once the ordinance is in place?

    a case law ref. would be great!

    Moderator note:
    (Dan) Changed the thread title from "Grandfathering/legal nonconforming required?"

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Richi's avatar
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    Depends on the state I think.. Typically in Florida the owner is given several years to amatorize the value of the sign. Requiring the removal of a sign that was legal prior to the enactment of a regulation would likely get the local government involved in a taking issue... especially if the sign was relatively new and in good condition and cost more than a few $$.

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    The most commonly used methods to remove legal nonconforming signs are:

    1) Attrition. usually the most politically acceptable method, although it could take decades before you see the results of your sign code.

    2) Amortization. The sign owner gets a period of time -- usually five to ten years -- where they can "write off" the sign's value for tax purposes. The nonconforming signs need to be gone by the end of the amortization period.

    Amortization is a faster way to see results, but towards the end of the amortization period there may be -- in most case, will be -- opposition from some businesspeople.

    Some states prohibit sign amortization. The National Highway Beautification Act prohibits amortization of billboards located along a Federal Aid Highway. In Florida, billboards are as much of a protected species as alligators; you can't amortize them, and you can't require their removal as a condition for site plan approval, rezoning or any development activity.

    Other methods of eliminating nonconforming signs include removal/replacement as a condition of site plan approval; forced removal if the sign is abandoned; or the face is empty or identifies a nonexistent business for more than a certain period of time (termination of the nonconforming use by the sign owner, essentially); or paying for resign removal and replacement through a business improvement district, TIF, or some other creative method.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Dan, good information but you didn't answer my question - is a time frame (ex: 2 years, 30 days, when the sign is damaged or in need of repair of greater than 50% of its value, etc...) for conformity required?

    If a time frame is not required can a local government start fining, ticketing, or removing nonconforming signs upon signing of the legislation for the new ordinance?

  5. #5
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by seymour44 View post
    Dan, good information but you didn't answer my question - is a time frame (ex: 2 years, 30 days, when the sign is damaged or in need of repair of greater than 50% of its value, etc...) for conformity required?

    If a time frame is not required can a local government start fining, ticketing, or removing nonconforming signs upon signing of the legislation for the new ordinance?
    Usually amortization periods are five years or longer. You need to allow for enough time to have the sign owner write off the value of their nonconforming sign in their taxes.

    For damaged signs, most codes are the same as for damaged nonconforming structures or uses; 50% of the value or whatever.

    If no time frame is indicated in the code, it's assumed that attrition is the method used for nonconforming sign removal. Under attrition, you can't fine, ticket or require removal of legally nonconforming signs unless they're damaged beyond a designated extent, abandoned for a designated period, or as a condition of approval for site redevelopment. With an attrition policy, a sign is treated just almost like any other nonconforming structure.

    In most codes, owners of nonconforming signs can perform repairs and preventative maintenance, but can't alter the sign to increase its lifespan, move the sign to a different location on the building or site, or make changes that excaberates the nonconformity; for example, adding panels or otherwise increasing the display area.

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