Decision Making in Sign Codes

Zoning Practice — March 2009

By Daniel Mandelker


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Sign codes often contain discretionary decision-making procedures. They may contain a permit requirement, may permit some signs only as conditional uses, and may authorize hardship variances. Officials may also be allowed to waive or modify some regulations, such as setback requirements.

More creatively, sign codes can authorize a design review for customized signs that meet design criteria. These discretionary decision-making procedures raise free speech problems because they are prior restraints on the expressive content that signs contain.

This issue of Zoning Practice reviews the legal concept of prior restraint as it relates to discretionary sign permitting decisions and explains how sign codes can steer clear of problems associated with prior restraint.


Page Count
Date Published
March 1, 2009
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American Planning Association

About the Author

Daniel Mandelker