City rules on where & when you can post signs
Signs can be helpful guideposts, visual clutter or a distraction to drivers, depending on where they are and what they look like. Hampton has a series of rules on what kinds of signs are and aren’t allowed.
For the record, the rules are different in residential neighborhoods than in commercial areas and vary based upon the use of the property involved. Some commercial areas even have different sets of rules — to maintain a consistent look.
In neighborhoods, residents usually can display only temporary signs that are connected with an event, construction, sale or rent. During the political season — the 100 days leading up to an election — additional signs are allowed. There are limits on the size and height.
One thing holds true in any season: Individuals and businesses cannot place signs on city property or city right-of-way. Call 311 or the Property Maintenance and Zoning Enforcement office to learn what is allowed for your property and whether a sign permit is required.
Q: How can the city regulate signs on private property?
A: City regulations are designed to ensure vehicle and pedestrian traffic safety, prevent visual clutter, distraction, and hazards, and to attract business and investment. The zoning ordinance regulates the total number, type, size, and location of signage on private property.
Q: Are signs regulated based on what they say?
A: No. Signs allowed under the zoning ordinance may display any message about any topic but must comply with zoning regulations including the physical nature of the sign (e.g., height, sign area, type), duration of display of the sign, and location of the sign. The city does regulate signage based upon factors such as zoning district and use of the property. For example, commercial areas are generally permitted larger and taller signs than residential areas. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that regulating signs based on their content is unconstitutional, and the city revised its sign regulations to reflect that directive in 2016.
Q: What is allowed in residential areas?
A: Generally, permanent signage is not permitted on properties with residential uses in residential zoning districts. Such properties can display temporary signage when the property is for sale, rent, or under construction, and within certain time periods around special events, yard sales, and elections. These temporary signs do not require a sign permit and are not regulated by their message. Generally, they are limited to lawn signs up to 5 feet tall and 8 square feet in area, but different size and type regulations apply based upon zoning district and use of the property. (See more details in tables in Chapter 10 of the zoning ordinance. Important terms are defined in Chapter 2.) Call the Zoning Office at 757-728-2444 for more information about what is permitted on your property.
Q: What political signs are allowed?
A: Because that would be regulating content, there are no specific rules about political signs. However, residents are allowed to have additional temporary yard signs during the 100 days leading up to an election – as many as there are candidates and issues on the ballot. The signs can each be up to 8 square feet in area and 5 feet in height. However, they have to be removed within 10 days after the election.
Make sure that signs are on private property. The area close to the street is city right-of-way (the distance varies) and signs cannot be placed there. Larger signs are allowed during the election season in commercial areas, but those may vary. Property owners should call the Zoning Office at 728-2444 for sizing and placement limitations.
Q: If it’s illegal to place signs in the public right-of-way, why are there so many?
A: We have two city employees who look for and remove signs in the city’s right-of-way every morning. Staff prioritizes removal of the signs that are in intersections or attached to traffic signs, which can create confusion or trigger accidents. While placing signs in the right-of-way is illegal, it can be difficult to prove to a legal standard who put the signs out and is responsible for the violation. Some individuals place new signs out nearly every night. City staff traces the numbers and tries to find (and to fine) violators and to educate them about the sign rules. We’ve had some success, but many are cell phone numbers that are hard to trace.
Round Robin segment
Posted Oct. 4, 2017