Amongst all the building permits a project will need prior to opening, it might be easy to forget about the sign permit. It could be a mistake to leave it for last because there are time, cost, and building and zoning code implications. Like all of our other permitting services, MAPS anticipates and eliminates delays. 

A sign permit is required for nearly all signs. For example, a marquee advertising upcoming shows, and a projecting sign that names the business or venue both require a permit. However, decals and lettering of a building's address and opening hours on the doors and windows don't count as a sign, nor do certain temporary signs.

The Farm on Ogden, an urban farm in North Lawndale by the Chicago Botanic Garden, has a  sign permit for the non-illuminated sign on the roof . Photo by Spencer Blaney.

The Farm on Ogden, an urban farm in North Lawndale by the Chicago Botanic Garden, has a sign permit for the non-illuminated sign on the roof. Photo by Spencer Blaney.

Here's how MAPS helps clients expeditiously install their important signs:

  • Apply for and obtain sign permits

  • Determine if a sign will need a contractor to install

  • Verify that preferred contractors have active licenses

  • Calculate the permit fee

  • Calculate the allowable sign area, and determine which sign types are allowed by zoning (this can also be part of a zoning assessment, if requested)

  • Ensure the sign permit is processed and issued without delay 

Xuan Tea in Bucktown has a permitted blade sign, and the required Public Way Use Permit (Grant of Privilege) because it hangs over the public way. Photo by Steven Vance.

Xuan Tea in Bucktown has a permitted blade sign, and the required Public Way Use Permit (Grant of Privilege) because it hangs over the public way. Photo by Steven Vance.

Each sign will need its own permit, even if they're on the same building or property. If the sign or sign structure requires drawings from a licensed architect or licensed structural engineer, then a general contractor, or sign contractor, will have to be listed on the application. Also, if the sign or sign structure has electrical work, a licensed electrical contractor must be listed on the application.

Most signs are also subject to the zoning code. Zoning districts vary in the types of signs they allow, while "R" zoning districts drastically limit the allowable size. There are also four special sign districts with different sign regulations. 

For typical retail businesses and office buildings, most of the zoning code's sign regulations will apply. For muralists, people hiring muralists, non-profit organizations, and government users, there may be some exceptions as there are some signs that aren't regulated by the zoning code. These unregulated signs include:

  • official signs required by law,

  • noncommercial works of art (like murals)

  • noncommercial holiday decorations (like the kinda that Special Service Areas put up)

  • signs inside sports fields that can't be seen outside the property line

  • signs inside buildings that can't be seen from the street or neighboring lot (17-12-0500).

Even though the above sign types are not regulated by the zoning code, the building code may still require a permit.

This Ipsento coffee shop in Bucktown has 4 sign permits, one for each sign:  Donuts ,  Bar ,  Coffee , and one for the  Ipsento logo  above the door. Photo by Steven Vance.

This Ipsento coffee shop in Bucktown has 4 sign permits, one for each sign: Donuts, Bar, Coffee, and one for the Ipsento logo above the door. Photo by Steven Vance.

Some sign types are not allowed in all of Chicago's zoning districts: strobe lights, roof signs (except those allowed as high-rise signs), and portable electric signs, signs attached to parked vehicles visible from the street, signs that look like traffic signals, video display signs (except those located in Planned Developments that are for sports stadiums or convention centers), and signs on a parking lot's perimeter fence. 

Based on the sign's design, an administrative or legislative approval might be needed. The property owner will have to obtain a Public Way Use Permit (also called a Grant of Privilege) for any sign, sign structure, or sign apparatus (like floodlights) that projects over the sidewalk, street, or alley. Then, any sign that's larger than 100 s.f. or is higher up than 24 feet above grade will require an Order from Chicago City Council. 

Get in touch with MAP Strategies if you have a question about how to design a sign and get it permitted quickly. The Chicago Buildings Department has additional resources on sign permits.