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Sign Ordinance FAQs
Save your business time and money! Before you display or install a sign at your business location, make sure that your sign complies with Charlotte’s Sign Ordinance. Owners of signs that violate the ordinance are subject to citations and penalties.
 
The information provided here is intended to provide a brief overview of what businesses should know before they install or display a sign. For more details and to help ensure compliance, refer to the Charlotte Zoning Ordinance available at www.charlotteplanning.org.
 
What is considered a “sign”?
How do I know if I need a sign permit?
Why do I need to know the Zoning District that I am located in to get a sign permit?
Once I know the Zoning District, how do I learn what kind of sign is allowed?
Where can I get a copy of Charlotte’s Zoning Ordinance?
Does Charlotte have design criteria for signs?
I want to change the face of my existing sign, do I need a permit?
Does maintenance of my existing sign require a permit?
Can I display a temporary banner on my building?
What if I want to display a sign in my business window?
I want to place a portable or A-frame sign in front of my business. Is this allowed?
How big can my sign be?
How do I calculate my sign area?
What is changeable copy?
Where on my property can I put a sign?
What is a sight-distance-triangle?
What is a nonconforming sign?
May I keep a sign that is larger than the maximum sign height or sign area for a zoning district?
Can I install a sign that is not allowed by the zoning ordinance?
How do I apply for a sign permit?
When will I get my sign permit?
Will I have to pay a fee for a sign permit?
I’ve received a Notice of Violation. What do I do?
Who do I call if I have more questions?
Prohibited Signs
Can I attach a sign to a utility pole?
I’ve been considering buying yard-stake signs to advertise my business. Where can I put these?

What is considered a “sign”?
Generally, a sign is defined as any object, device, or structure, or part thereof, situated outdoors, which is used to advertise, identify, display, direct, or attract attention to an object, person, institution, organization, business, product, service, event or location by any means, including words, letters, figures, designs, symbols, fixtures, colors, illumination, or projected images. Refer to the Zoning Ordinance for the full definition of what constitutes a sign in Charlotte.
 
How do I know if I need a sign permit?
Nearly all signs in Charlotte need a permit, including new signs as well as any modifications to or replacements of existing signs. Businesses can verify whether a sign permit is needed by calling 311 or visiting the Zoning Code Enforcement Office at the Hal Marshall Building located at 700 N. Tryon Street, Charlotte NC 28202. 
 
Why do I need to know the Zoning District that I am located in to get a sign permit?
Sign regulations differ based on the zoning district that the business sign is located in. For example, sign regulations for Industrial Districts can be very different from sign regulations for Mixed-Use Development Districts. In addition, special overlay and conditional districts, such as Pedestrian Overlay Districts (PED) and Mixed Use Districts (MX) can have specific sign regulations for the district. To learn what the zoning district that your business is in as well as whether you are located in a special overlay district, visit the Virtual Charlotte on-line tool available at http://vc.charmeck.org. 
 
Once I know the Zoning District, how do I learn what kind of sign is allowed?
Businesses should refer to the Charlotte Zoning Ordinance to learn what kind of signs are allowed, including, among other things, where a sign can be located, what the maximum size of a sign can be, how many signs can be on a site, the type of lighting that can be used, etc. General sign regulations can be found in Chapter 13, with additional details applicable to specific zoning districts in Chapters 9, 10 and 11. Businesses are encouraged to work with a reputable, professional sign company familiar with Charlotte’s sign ordinance to help ensure compliance.
 
Where can I get a copy of Charlotte’s Zoning Ordinance?
The Charlotte Zoning ordinance can be found on-line at www.charlotteplanning.org
 
Does Charlotte have design criteria for signs?
Design criteria is based on, among other things, the zoning of the property on which the sign is being placed. Refer to Chapter 13 of the Zoning Ordinance for general information, and Chapters 9, 10 and 11 for details surrounding specific Zoning districts.
 
I want to change the face of my existing sign, do I need a permit?
Generally you will not need a permit to simply change the face of an existing sign. A permit is required, however, for things such as structural or size changes, or if your existing sign will be taken down or otherwise removed and replaced. Refer to the ordinance for more details. Contact 311 or visit the Zoning Code Enforcement office at the Hal Marshall Building at 700 N. Tryon Street to learn if you need a permit for the type of work you propose to do. 
 
Does maintenance of my existing sign require a permit?
Generally, nominal maintenance of signs, including necessary nonstructural repairs, does not require a permit. To ensure compliance, all repairs or changes to signage should be reviewed and approved by the Charlotte Zoning Code Enforcement office located at the Hal Marshall Building, 700 N. Tryon Street, Charlotte NC 28202.
 
Can I display a temporary banner on my building?
Temporary banners are allowed as long as they comply with Section 13.106(12) of the zoning ordinance. Generally, businesses are allowed to display a temporary banner without a permit up to six times per year for a period not to exceed 2 weeks each. One banner at a time is allowed per establishment and the banner must be attached in total to a building wall. In addition, special events banners are allowed for religious, charitable, civic, fraternal, or similar organizations as long as they comply with Section 13.106(11).
 
What if I want to display a sign in my business window?
Generally, window signs are allowed and do not require a permit as long as they comply with Section 13.106(5). In addition to the sign ordinance, businesses should also be aware that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department discourages window signs that block visibility into the building.
 
I want to place a portable or A-frame type sign in front of my business. Is this allowed?
A-frame and other types of portable signs are not allowed. Businesses that display these types of signs are subject to citations and fines.
 
How big can my sign be?
The maximum size allowed is determined by a number of factors, such as, among other things, the zoning district the sign is located in, whether or not the sign is in a special urban district like PED, TS, UMUD, etc., and the total square footage of the building(s) to which the sign is attached or applies. Refer to the zoning ordinance for details and consider working with a professional sign company familiar with the ordinance to help ensure compliance.
 
How do I calculate my sign area?
Refer to Section 13 of the Zoning Ordinance for details on how to calculate the sign faced area. Generally, the area within a single, continuous perimeter enclosing the extreme limits of characters, lettering, logos, illustration, or ornamentations, together with any material or color forming an integral part of the display or to differentiate the sign from the background to which it is placed is considered the sign area. If a sign is attached to an entrance wall or fence, only the portion of that wall or fence onto which the sign face or letters are placed shall be calculated in the sign area. The area of a Business Sign which is occupied by the address shall not be included in any area, except where the address is also the name of the business or institution owning or occupying the premises.
 
What is changeable copy?
Changeable copy is copy that is or can be changed manually in the field or through mechanical means (e.g. readerboards with changeable letters). The Zoning Ordinance provides guidelines on the maximum amount of changeable copy that a sign can have. 
 
Where on my property can I put a sign?
Generally, signs must be located out of the right of way and sight distance triangles. Additional details can apply depending upon other factors such as the zoning district. Refer to the zoning ordinance and contact the Zoning Code Enforcement office at the Hal Marshall Building located at 700 N. Tryon Street, Charlotte NC 28202 for specific questions. 
 
What is a sight-distance-triangle?
The area needed to be clear of site obstruction for safe vehicular turning movements is called the "sight distance triangle." The sight distance requirements affect the location of all obstructions, including signs, landscaping, fencing, parking, buildings and other improvements. The procedures to determine required sight distance for a property can be found in Section 12.109 of the Zoning Ordinance.
 
What is a nonconforming sign?
Nonconforming signs, also commonly referred to as “grandfathered” signs, are those that were lawfully installed and maintained prior to enactment of the zoning ordinance but that now fail to conform to the current ordinance. Nonconforming signs must be removed or replaced with conforming signs when certain events occur, such as when substantial alterations are made to the building façade or when a new sign permit is obtained. Refer to Section 13.112 for additional details.
 
May I keep a sign that is larger than the maximum sign height or sign area for a zoning district?
A sign that is larger than what the ordinance allows may be “grandfathered.” Such signs may be allowed to remain provided that any work on the sign is considered routine maintenance. Grandfathered, nonconforming signs must be removed or replaced with conforming signs when certain events occur, such as when substantial alterations are made to the building façade or when a new sign permit is obtained. Refer to Section 13.112 for additional details. 
 
Can I install a sign that is not allowed by the zoning ordinance?
No, signs that violate the zoning ordinance are not allowed and are subject to citations and penalties (Section 8.105). Variance requests are reviewed by the Zoning Board of Adjustments pursuant to Section 13.114. 
 
How do I apply for a sign permit?
Sign permit applications, together with renderings or drawings of the sign and other required information, should be submitted to the City of Charlotte Zoning Code Enforcement office located at 700 N. Tryon Street, between the hours of 8:00 am and 5:00 pm Monday-Friday. A sample sign permit application and checklist is available online on the Zoning Code Enforcement pages at http://nbs.charlottenc.gov.  Zoning Staff can provide applications to you by calling 704-336-7600.
 
When will I get my sign permit?
The review and processing of sign permits typically takes up to 3-5 business days from the date that the application was submitted. 
 
Will I have to pay a fee for a sign permit?
Typically, the fee for obtaining a sign permit is determined by the size of the sign itself. To learn about current fees Visit the Zoning Code Enforcement webpage at http://nbs.charlottenc.gov or contact 311.
 
I’ve received a Notice of Violation. What do I do?
Signs that violate the Zoning Ordinance are subject to citations and fines. If you have received a Notice of Violation (NOV) you must correct the violation within an established amount of time. Failure to do this will result in additional action.   Appeal requests to a violation or citation must be submitted according to the instructions provided in the NOV/Citation documents that are issued by the Inspector.
 
Who do I call if I have more questions?
Contact 311 for additional questions or visit the Zoning Code Enforcement office located at 700 N. Tryon Street, between the hours of 8:00 am and 5:00 pm Monday-Friday.
 
Prohibited Signs
Examples of prohibited signs include but are not limited to the following:
  • Roof signs
  • Portable signs including A-frame signs
  • Off-premise signs
  • Flashing, fluttering, swinging, or rotating signs other than time and temperature signs
  • Signs similar in color, design and appearance to traffic control signs
  • Signs located within, or project into, a public right-of-way
  • Signs located in the sight distance triangle (Section 12.109 of the Zoning Ordinance)
  • Any signs attached to utility, streetlight, or traffic signal poles or lights

Can I attach a sign to a utility pole?
No. Signs attached to utility poles, traffic signal poles, streetlights, etc. are a public safety hazard and are expressly forbidden. 
 
I’ve been considering buying yard-stake signs to advertise my business. Where can I put these?
Portable signs such as yard-stake signs violate the sign ordinance and are not allowed.