Signs / billboards "On-site" sign, what is a site?

Typical for most sign ordinance I am familiar with my City's sign ordinance distinguishes between "on-site" (or "on-premises") and off-site signs, generally for billboards. A sign permit applicant is questioning our interpretation of what it means to be "on-site". While our ordinance does not define "site" or "premises", we have consistently interpreted it to mean something like contiguous property developed as a single, unified development. This has been pretty consistent in multiple cities throughout my career. In this particular case, a church with a school owns quite a bit of property in multiple blocks with intervening streets. Both for site plan purposes and for sign ordinance purposes, we have never considered property across streets as being part of the same site. While this church has future plans to turn this whole area into a large campus, including closing some of those streets, except for one block the remaining land is vacant. Now what they are proposing is a tall sign, adjacent to a freeway, on a small property that has a small maintenance building and office for the church, which is over two blocks from the main church and school buildings with intervening vacant property. We have told them that a sign on that property that would advertise for activities, events, etc. that do not occur on that property, but at the church two blocks away would be considered an off-site sign per our ordinance.

So, I have two questions for the forum:
1. How would you treat this situation?
2. Since our ordinance does not specifically define what a site is, are we being unreasonable by not allowing the church to consider all of their "campus" property as one site, even with public streets separating their properties?

I should add that our proposed solution, which we have used in a few other instances, is for them to rezone to a Planned Development that would specifically tie all of the property together in something like a campus master plan that would allow the whole of their properties to be defined in the PD as one site.



Chairman of the bored
Staff member
I'll steer clear of discussion about the potential applicability of the Reed Vs Town of Gilbert SC ruling here, and state that my community deals with this situation by defining 'zoning lots' (designated by a developer at the time of development) in their zoning code to address things like access and/or signage. If a sign identifies a business/activity that's not on/within the zoning lot it is by definition 'off-premises'. That's one way to deal with it. Another - and probably more readily available option for you might be an interpretation by the Zoning Board of Appeals. But regardless whether you choose to rely on a text amendment, Board interpretation, or rezoning, I would be sure to remain consistent in the application of that method to all businesses in the city.
Between Gilbert and it being a church project, you have a fun case. Your a little shaky with the road splitting the property. You are right about the idea, but I would go with tax number with this one. I liked the idea of of having them rezone it to PD. To keep from ruffling feathers, I wouldn't change them for the project.


I've always considered the site the property. Anything beyond that would need a careful definition or what we do is a "comprehensive sign plan" which is basically a use permit that covers a broader area and allows some deviation from standard signs. Sadly it sounds like they're good because the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists on the property in some manner and their sign would specify a business name. If it has a message board, I take those as either allowed or not and ignore the message.