Setting Up Your Community for Sign Code Success

Zoning Practice — November 2019

By Dawn Jourdan, Eric Strauss, AICP


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The regulations that govern signage must balance the interests of property owners, sign owners, neighboring property owners, and the citizens of a community. Those crafting these regulations must also consider economic concerns, aesthetics, traffic safety, protection and promotion of special areas, and the prevention of blight. Given this delicate balancing act, cities often rely upon the expertise of specialized task forces to help craft these codes to increase the likelihood of implementation, and reduce the risk of litigation.

This edition of Zoning Practice explores the fundamentals of sign codes, addresses common controversies that communities must address before revising their sign regulations, and presents a series of recommendations to help planners engage community stakeholders in the sign code development or revision processes.


Page Count
Date Published
Nov. 1, 2019
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Authors

Dawn Jourdan
Dawn is the Dean at the University of Maryland's School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. She previously served as Executive Associate Dean for the College of Architecture at Texas A & M and is professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning. Dawn earned a Ph.D. in urban and regional planning from Florida State University in 2004, a joint degree in law and urban planning from the University of Kansas in 2000. She is the founding president of the Academic Advisory Council for Signage Research and Education and the creator of the Interdisciplinary Journal of Signage and Wayfinding. She is a co-editor for the Journal of Planning Education and Research.

Eric Strauss, AICP
Dr. Eric Strauss is a land use lawyer, urban and regional planner and an academic who has taught in both fields. He believes that the engaged scholar blends practical experience with theoretical research to educate current and future professionals on the best methods of urban development. He believes in interdisciplinary education. He has held faculty positions in the following fields: agriculture; architecture and urban design; environmental studies; geography; law; public administration; public affairs; and urban and regional planning. Dr. Strauss began his career working on a Governor’s staff in Wisconsin. His area of expertise was environmental and regional planning law. He then worked for the State Budget Office and later became a land use specialist for the University of Wisconsin-Extension. After briefly being in private practice, he returned to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he received a PhD in Urban and Regional Planning. He then joined the University of Kansas where he was on the faculty for 23 years, 17 as Chair of the Graduate Program in Urban Planning. He also taught for shorter periods at Jackson State University and Indiana University-Bloomington. During that time he also served as a city attorney, a city planner, a county planning director and of counsel to 3 different law firms. He wrote plans and ordinances for over 40 governmental organizations in Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Wisconsin. His research areas included such topics as energy conservation, growth management and adequate public facilities. He wrote several sign ordinances. In 2001 he moved to Michigan State University where he was Director of the Urban and Regional Planning Program. Consistent with the idea that land grant universities have domestic and international emphases, he has taught in Universities in Ireland, Germany, Romania, South Korea and Turkey. Dr. Strauss was also a Fulbright Specialist in the Municipality of Panama City, Panama focusing on urban planning and transportation issues. He has published in a variety of academic and professional publications. He recently co-authored a textbook on land use law with Dr. Dawn Jourdan. His research has been funded by federal, state and local governments as well as private organizations such as the International Sign Association.