The City of Philadelphia can be a cruel mistress. When filing permits, it’s common to be told that the thing you’ve done 176 times needs to be laid out a different way the 177th time – but then, on the 178th time, to go back to the regular way. Sometimes, the way the application process works depends on which staffer is on lunch. This is life on the mean streets of 1401 JFK Boulevard.
But every now and again, the City smiles upon us all, and cuts away some of its own red tape. It has recently cut some tape around its troubled sign permits by creating what we in the permit game have previously only dreamt of: EZ sign permits.
Now, I know what you’re saying: “Wasn’t there already an EZ sign permit application, called the ‘EZ Wall Sign Permit’?”
Okay – maybe you weren’t saying that. But there has been another EZ sign permit for a while – and you can find the application form right here.
The problem is that this old permit was a bit of an oddity – like the EZ Commercial Level I Alterations Permit (which we all know and love), the EZ Wall Sign Permit would regularly just… not be accepted at L&I. Even though the guidelines are still there on the City’s website, the City didn’t consider this Wall Sign Permit, like, a real thing – L&I would often demand plans, diagrams, pictures, and a regular zoning permit application for all signs, even ones that should’ve been slam dunks for the EZ Wall Sign Permit.
But no longer! Now there is an EZ sign permit for building and zoning. That’s right: the first EZ zoning permit!
I know all my permit heads out there are losing their minds, and I will see you beautiful monsters at the after party. For everybody else, though, here’s a quick explanation of what these permits are and what they do:
The EZ Sign Permit is Only for Certain Commercially-Zoned Properties
You still need special zoning dispensation to put a sign on a house, and you need to go through the regular zoning process if your building is in a lot zoned for anything other than the following:
The EZ Sign Permit is Only for Flat-Mounted Signs…
That’s right – no blade signs, banners, awnings, or window signs: just signs mounted parallel to the building face, right on the exterior wall. These signs can’t project more than a foot off the face of the building, either.
… That Are Also Twelve Feet Above Grade…
At the bottom edge, the sign has to be twelve feet above the ground. And it can’t be more that fifteen feet above grade at its top edge. So basically, you can’t make a very large sign; though there’s more on sign size later (see below). Really, just read the whole list of regulations, because it can’t be too heavy either.
… And Not Too Expensive
There’s a cap of $25,000 for sign installation if you want a brand-new EZ sign permit.
The EZ Sign Permit is Only for Accessory Use
This means that the sign must advertise the business in the building. So if you want to pin a sign on your building for your other business, around the corner, you’ll need a regular old sign permit – and probably a zoning variance, too.
There Are Strict Size Limits on an EZ Sign Permit
The allowable size of your sign depends on the width of your building. It isn’t a simple formula, though, because each of the allowed classifications – CMX-1, CMX-2/2.5, and CA-1/2 – is allowed a different calculation. Basically, CMX-1 is allowed only a small sign, and CA-2 is allowed a potentially bigger sign. Check out the regulations sheet offered for the zoning and building EZ sign permit to get exact measurements.
The EZ Sign Permit Doesn’t Apply in Center City or to Historical Properties
Ah, the curse of Center City signs – doomed to wander this earth crying for a home. Well, that or approval from the Art Commission.
The Center City overlay district is a graveyard for banner signs. The district strictly limits how large a sign can be, and requires oversight from the Art Commission along with L&I. An even mildly ambitious sign plan might require a zoning variance. So while Center City is great and growing, it’s not a hospitable environment for signs.
(Also note that there are several other areas in the City where the EZ sign permit doesn’t apply – most notably along the Ben Franklin Parkway.)
So that’s it! There is a new process whereby you can legalize a sign in one day, over the counter, without waiting in (too long of) a line and without hiring an architect to draw up a complex set of diagrams. It doesn’t apply to the busiest area of Philadelphia, but it’s better than what we had before, because that was nothing. Now, we have an EZ sign permit.