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  • County updates sign code in place since 1980s

    Nov 18, 2020 | Read More News
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    The Pima County Board of Supervisors Nov. 17 approved an update to the County’s commercial sign code rules that have been largely untouched since 1986.
    The new code changes sign regulations across many areas, such as height and setbacks from property line. The update balances legal, economic, and community interests as well as the region’s natural resources. Much emphasis was placed on preserving dark skies that residents enjoy, and which is imperative to astronomical observation. 

    In updating the code, Pima County Development Services also simplified and modernized standards. 

    Changes to the code allow for greater surface coverage of wall-mounted signs, an option for larger freestanding signs when achieving reductions in lighting color temperature and brightness, reduced setback from property lines, and a standard 10-foot height limit in commercial and industrial areas. 

    The changes also introduced a Master Sign Program to allow small off-site signs (non-billboard) in the right-of-way and providing greater flexibility for signs in commercial complexes when incorporating high quality materials, reducing visual clutter and improving streetscape appearances. 

    Other changes included allowing certain temporary signs such as A-frame and T-frame signs, and an incentive-based option to increase sign area and height through a Dark Sky Protection Option with reductions in lighting color temperature and brightness.

    An area the update did not address was Electronic Messaging Display (EMD) signs, which remain prohibited in unincorporated Pima County.

    The update resolved issues with the previous code related to a U.S. Supreme Court case ruling prohibiting local codes from regulating signage based on content. The case, Reed v. the Town of Gilbert, focused on First Amendment issues, required jurisdictions across the country to revise their codes to make them content neutral. In simple terms, if someone has to read the text of a sign to determine whether a regulation applies, the regulation is not content neutral.

    The sign-code amendment is the product of two years of planning and interaction with businesses, astronomy community and other interested parties to address a broad spectrum of interests. 

    The amendment reflects the Pima County Comprehensive Plan’s goals of balancing the interests of economic development and protecting natural resources. In particular, the update protected the viability of industries that rely on dark sky protection, such as the astronomy and optics industries. Statewide, astronomy and optics industries are responsible for an estimated $252 billion in economic impact and more than 3,300 jobs.