Montgomery County Rewrites Sign Ordinance; Updates Allow More Flexibility for Menu Boards and Digital Signs

by Patrick Herron

The changes approved in ZTA 22-05 represent the first comprehensive rewrite of the County Sign Ordinance in the past 25 years. The provisions of ZTA 22-05 will go into effect Monday, Oct. 10.

Prior to approval of the new ZTA, owners of digital sign boards were legally limited to changing the messages on digital signs to once every 24 hours unless they obtained a variance. The new regulations will allow changes once every 30 seconds.

“Rewriting the Sign Ordinance was a complex project and an important step forward for our business community,” said Montgomery County Executive Elrich. “The Economic Advisory Group requested this update to streamline business development and growth in the County. I want to thank the Council, our dedicated staff, partners and representatives from the business community who helped make this happen. We believe this update of the Sign Ordinance will have long-lasting benefits in our post-COVID economic recovery.”

Highlights of the changes that will be implemented by ZTA 22-05 include:

  • More flexibility for menu board signs associated with drive-through and service windows. The current sign ordinance does not allow these signs by right and would require a variance from the Sign Review Board. The update alleviates this issue, allowing freestanding signs associated with a drive-through lane by right.
  • Increasing the frequency allowed for messages to change on digital signs from once every 24 hours to once every 30 seconds.
  • Merging limited duration and temporary signs into a single “temporary sign” category for more efficiency.
  • Allowing canopy signs in the commercial areas to be modified without the need of amendments to the site plan.
  • Adding a provision that would allow entrance signs to subdivisions approved by the Planning Board to not require a sign variance provided that the details of the sign location, height and area are shown on the site plan. By deeming these signs code compliant, applicants are not required to request a sign variance from the Sign Review Board, which saves up to 60 days.
  • For businesses that abut a major highway, arterial or business district road, the one customer sign that could previously only be placed at a direct customer entrance can now be placed at a different location without the need for a variance.
  • Amendments to the provisions governing DPS’s role in issuing a permit for a sign erected on a historic resource or in a historic district.

“I am very pleased to see the County continue to move forward with its commitment on the Speed to Market recommendations of the Economic Advisory Group and other efforts to advance economic development in the County,” said Economic Advisory Group (EAG) Chair Doug Firstenberg.

The EAG. which is composed of elected officials, business representatives and residents, convened in late 2020 to create an action plan that would identify short and long-term strategies to address COVID-19-related and long-term historic barriers to sustained, diverse economic prosperity across the County. As part of the effort, it recommended that a comprehensive review and revamping of the County’s sign ordinance be conducted with the goal of updating it to reflect development and urbanization patterns of the past 30 years.

The process to update the sign ordinance began with the forming of a public-private partnership of participants composed of representatives from the business community and staff from DPS, the County Department of Transportation and Montgomery Planning.

“Revamping the County’s sign ordinance began with a comprehensive review of the sign ordinance with the goal of updating it to reflect current development and urbanization patterns of land use in the County,” said DPS Deputy Director Ehsan Motazedi. “This update is the latest example of how DPS is working to make the permitting process more efficient for our customers.”

A sign permit is required before any exterior sign—as defined by the Zoning Ordinance—may be installed in the County. A sign variance is required when the sign does not conform to the Zoning Ordinance.

For more information about the permitting process and signs, visit the DPS website or call MC 311 at 240-777-0311.

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