Business Signs

  1. Topic: Business Signs.

  2. Definitions:

    For purposes of these guidelines, business signs mean any outdoor sign, display or message intended to advertise or inform, which is secured to, or painted on a structure or an accessory structure such as a garage, awning, or canopy, or posted in the ground adjacent to the structure.

  3. Policy

    The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings recommended against:

    “Introducing any new building, streetscape or landscape feature that is out of scale or otherwise inappropriate to the setting’s historic character,” or

    “Introducing a new landscape feature or plant material that is visually incompatible with the site or destroys site patterns or vistas.”

    The following guidelines concerning business signs are provided to assist in interpreting and application of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitation Historic Buildings.

    Business signs should be consistent in style and appearance with the neighborhood or individually designated landmark where the sign is to be located.

    Business signs shall be of a style, size, material and appearance consistent with the architecture of the main structure on the property.

    Signs should be limited in size, scaled to be legible at the slow travel speeds of residential streets where applicable, and small enough that they do not dominate buildings originally designed for a non-commercial purpose, impose on pedestrian traffic or disturb the continuity of the streetscape. Designs should be simple and should not attempt to create a pseudo-historic appearance.

  4. Guidelines

    1. Size, Shape and Proportion

      1. Applicable Zoning Code provisions limit the size and location of business signs. In residential and certain other zones, the Zoning Code imposes stricter limits.
      2. Two (2) major types of sign placement are used:
        1. For those signs affixed to a structure, size and proportions must be sensitive to the style and proportions of the structure, and the size must comply with the sign provisions of the Zoning Code. Buildings built as residential structures normally will allow a sign no larger than four (4) square feet. If the structure was originally built for commercial or institutional use, there may be larger blank wall areas on which a somewhat larger sign would be consistent with the architecture. This must be judged on an individual basis and again is subject to the Zoning Code. Whenever a sign is affixed to a building, it must be installed to avoid damaging the structure. For example, when a sign is affixed to a masonry structure, it should be attached to mortar joints, not the brick or stone.
        2. For signs posted in a yard, next to a structure, the zoning limit should be observed. As an example, in a special residential zone this would allow a sign three (3) feet high and four (4) feet wide, which should provide ample space for business identification. A smaller size may be required depending on the size of the structure, the space available in the yard and the location of the sign in relation to the street, sidewalk and other structures. The size of the sign must be proportionate to the main structure. For instance, where a former residence is now in commercial use, a smaller sign may be required. Larger sized may be appropriate for some types of signs, such as state historical markers.
    2. Materials

      1. Historically appropriate materials include wood, cast metal, and flat sheet metal. Use of unfinished pressure treated lumber is not recommended.
      2. Historically appropriate techniques for creating lettering and designs generally include:
        1. Paint or gilding on a flat surface;
        2. Individual letters or logos cut-out and mounted on a smooth sign surface or building wall; and
        3. metal castings of the entire sign.
      3. Techniques generally not historically appropriate include:
        1. Sand-blasting of wood (or other methods) leaving raised letters on a heavily-textured background; and
        2. Painting by spraying or air-brushing, yielding letters and designs which are not clearly defined.
    3. Details

      1. For most situations, one (1) of two (2) basic styles of sign is recommended:
        1. In the case of a commercial-style building with appropriate wall areas, separate letters mounted to the wall of the structure, though care must be taken to minimize damage to wall areas in affixing the letters or
        2. A flat painted sign with a simple square or rectangular shape mounted in the yard.
      2. Colors used should be consistent with the color scheme of the structure to which they relate.
      3. Lighting the surface of the sign may be acceptable, depending on the character of the main structure and adjacent buildings. Interior illuminated, neon signs, flashing lights and back-lit awnings are normally not recommended. Any lighting must also comply with the sign provisions of the Zoning Code.
      4. The sign lettering, decoration, logo, design, or any other element, must be consistent with the scale, design and appearance of the structure to which the sign relates.

These guidelines were approved by the Michigan Bureau of History as of May 24, 1995 pursuant to Section 5.(3) of Act 169 of 1970, as amended (Local Historic Districts Act).


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