Montgomery County Speed to Market Initiatives: Sign Ordinance Rewrite Emerges from Economic Advisory Work Group

By Matt Gordon
Partner at Selzer Gurvitch 

July 15, 2022

In connection with the Montgomery County Economic Advisory Group’s (EAG) “Speed-to-Market” initiative, the Department of Permitting Services (DPS) established a Sign Ordinance Work Group to revamp and update the County’s Sign Ordinance to reflect the County’s urbanization patterns over the last 30 years. The EAG was a special ad hoc committee appointed by County Executive Marc Elrich (chaired by Doug Firstenberg of Stonebridge), made up of key private sector leaders and local government-elected leaders, to respond to the sluggish post-pandemic economy and to also build a stronger, more resilient, and diverse economy than before COVID. The Sign Ordinance Work Group was formed with a public-private partnership of participants composed of staff from DPS, Department of Transportation, Montgomery Planning, and private industry (including the author of this article). The Sign Ordinance (part of the County’s Zoning Ordinance) was not updated as part of the Zoning Ordinance re-write of 2014.  The decision not to concurrently update the Sign Ordinance recognized the amount of work and the complexity of amending a Sign Ordinance that was grossly outdated (technologically and otherwise). The EAG recognized that updating the Sign Ordinance was crucial in a growing local economy.

The County Council introduced the Sign Ordinance Work Group’s recommended changes to the Sign Ordinance as Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) No. 22-05 earlier this month on June 14th and scheduled a public hearing for July 26th. In addition to reorganizing the Sign Ordinance to make it easier to understand, the ZTA includes:

  • Flexibility for Digital Signage: In order to better compete with surrounding jurisdictions, and in recognition of the technological advances in signage since the ordinance had last been amended, the ZTA allows much greater flexibility for the use of digital signage that changes periodically to allow multiple messaging. Currently, the Sign Ordinance only allows a property owner to change the content of a sign one time each day. The ZTA proposes to allow digital signs to change content every 30 seconds.
  • Streamlined approval process for entrance signs serving residential communities: In residential zones, the ZTA proposes to exempt entrance signs for multi-family projects and single-family residential subdivisions from being subject to approval of a sign variance from the Sign Review Board if the Planning Board approves the entrance sign as part of a Site Plan application. This change should help residents and visitors to communities more easily navigate their way into communities.
  • Flexibility for menu boards serving commercial uses: The current Sign Ordinance requires the Sign Review Board approve a sign variance for any menu board or ordering-window signage that is visible from an off-site location. Subject to satisfying certain design standards, the ZTA allows for approval of up to two (2) menu boards for a drive-through as part of a sign permit application (i.e., the Sign Review Board’s approval of a sign variance is no longer required).
  • Efficient review process for certain signs located in the public right-of-way: The ZTA eliminates the requirement that a sign in the public right-of-way be approved by the Sign Review Board. While the appropriate transportation authority would still have to approve signs in the public right-of-way and those signs would have to satisfy the size and location requirements in the Sign Ordinance, this proposed change would streamline the review process.

In addition to Selzer Gurvitch’s participation in the Sign Ordinance Work Group, Bob Dalrymple served on a subcommittee of the EAG focused specifically on the “Speed-to-Market” initiative (primarily focusing on efficiency in the County’s land use and zoning entitlement processes). The County’s “Speed-to-Market” initiative continues to identify key opportunities to enhance economic development opportunities and otherwise enhance the County’s tax base as the County enters the post-pandemic era.

If you have a development project that you are pursuing or interested in pursuing in Montgomery County, please contact Bob Dalrymple or Matt Gordon to discuss the topics above and/or any other land use and zoning needs that you may have.

Matt Gordon
301-634-3150 (p)

Bob Dalrymple
301-634-3148 (p)