New sign ordinance presented

A presentation of the proposed on-premise sign ordinance was given by Brian Wilke from the Community Development & Inspections Department at tonight’s Public Safety & Welfare Committee meeting.  The on-premise sign ordinances which are in place in Greenfield and Brookfield were the basis for drafting Kenosha’s ordinance.  Staff was looking for input from the Committee.  Wilke stated that this is a work in progress.  Below is a summary of the presentation:

General Notes

Permits will be required for most new signs.  Non-conforming signs may be repaired or altered, but they must be made to conform if they are damaged or removed.  Alderperson Michael Orth suggested including a definition of the word “damaged,” and Chairman Jesse Downing suggested including a definition of the word “altered.”  A change in ownership, tenancy, or conditional use requires the sign to come in to compliance with the ordinance.  Paula Blise, zoning coordinator, stated that that is not how the ordinance reads today.

Sign Area Calculations

Commercial Buildings – The sign area calculation is determined by multiplying the building front footage by 1.5, with a maximum of 200 square feet.  The combination of monument and wall signs will not exceed this amount.

Multi-Tenant Buildings – Each foot of frontage equals one square foot of sign, with a maximum of 50 square feet.


Two awning signs per business site would be allowed, with 10% of the awning area to a maximum of 100 square feet in total area.


Banners cannot exceed 24 square feet and must not be illuminated.  The permit will last for thirty days, and no more than four permits per calendar year will be allowed.  They will not be permitted on site with changeable copy signs.  Blise stated that current specifications are that they cannot exceed 32 square feet, and the limit is two permits per calendar year.   Orth stated that he has seen some “horrendous” banners and would like to see some language added pertaining to using strong posts.

Changeable Copy Signs

These signs are also not to exceed 24 square feet.  One sign per site would be allowed, and banners would not be permitted on sites with these signs.  If a digital sign is erected, the copy may be changed at five-second intervals.  Also, the copy can not be flashing.

Church/School/Civic Group Signs

The limit for these signs is 32 square feet, and they cannot exceed six feet in height.  These can only be monument signs.

Construction Signs

Residential – These signs cannot exceed six square feet, and they cannot exceed six feet in height.  They must be removed from the site no later than 30 days after completion of the project.

Non-Residential – These signs cannot exceed 32 square feet, and they cannot exceed eight feet in height.  The same removal rule applies.

Directional Signs

Six square feet is the limit for these signs, and only one sign is permitted for each vehicular access.  A maximum of two signs per site is the limit, although a restaurant with a drive thru is allowed three signs, not to exceed 24 square feet in total.  Orth asked about restaurants with multiple entrances, like the KFC on 39th Avenue and 81st Avenue, or the Culver’s on Highway 50 and Green Bay Road.  This may be changed to read one for each vehicular access point, and an additional sign for restaurants with drive thru’s.  Mike Lemens, director/city engineer, asked that the total square footage be checked.  He wasn’t sure if it should be 18 feet in total, or if each sign should be no more than eight feet.  “Six square feet is rather small; that’s a two foot by three foot sign,” he stated.

Election Signs

Election signs follow state statute rules.  They must be removed no later than seven days after the election.

Free-Standing Signs

These signs would have a maximum size of 49 square feet or 50% of the lot frontage, whichever is less.  Also, a maximum height of fifteen feet would be the limit.  Orth stated that “there are tons of these signs, especially on 60th Street between 39th Avenue and Sheridan Road.  There are probably over 200 of these in the city.  There are lots of signs that are leaning, too.  This would create a potential hazard,” he stated.  Wilke stated that the director of community development can order potentially hazardous signs removed.

Business Flags

There would be a maximum of three flagpoles per site, and a maximum of four flags.  The American flag is exempt from these rules.  Blise stated that currently, only government flags are allowed.  “For example,” she said, “McDonald’s cannot have their own business flag flown now.”

Industrial Park/Business Park Signs

The businesses in an industrial park would have to comply with the protective covenants in place in the park.  Downing asked how Southport Cooling on 52nd Street was able to have a billboard on the side of their building.  Orth asked about future business park covenants.  Covenants cannot override the city ordinance.  Lemens stated that “covenants can be more restrictive than the ordinance.”  The city doesn’t enforce these.  The park owners enforce themselves.

Monument Signs

Monument signs cannot exceed 80 square feet.  The maximum height is ten feet, and the maximum width is twelve feet.  The current maximum is also 80 square feet.  Downing brought up the recent exception for the reader board for Slice on Green Bay Road.  Orth stated that the Greenfield and Brookfield ordinance had a 96 square feet maximum.  He asked if there was a general industry standard.  “Why is our’s smaller?”  Blise stated that she hasn’t run into any problems concerning that.

Off-Premises Non-Commercial Directional Signs

An example given was the sign giving the directions to the Kenosha YMCA.  These are not to exceed eight square feet, and the maximum height is six feet.

Projecting Signs

These signs are not to exceed 100 square feet, and must not be less than eight feet from the bottom of the sign to the grade.  Lemens stated that sometimes these signs hang over the right-of-way.  He suggested a standardized procedure so that there would be no confusion regarding what needs committee review and what can be administratively approved.  Blise gave the example of the recent awning permit for Cooler Near the Lake, which extends over the right-of-way.

Real Estate Signs

Residential – Signs are not to exceed six square feet, and must not exceed six feet in height.

Non-Residential – Signs are not to exceed twelve square feet, and also must not exceed six feet in height.

Orth asked about signs that had the additional accoutrements or mini-kiosks.  Blise stated that these are difficult to regulate.

Seasonal and Other Temporary Signs

These signs are not to exceed 24 square feet, and must not exceed six feet in height.  The permit would be good for thirty days, and a maximum of four permits per year could be applied for.

Unified Business Center Signs

Examples are signs for CVS and McDonald’s.  These cannot exceed 35 feet in height.  One sign is allowed per major street frontage.  An additional sign per 400 feet of frontage would be allowed, with the maximum of two per street.

Wall Signs

Wall signs on buildings are not to exceed 100 square feet.  Only one wall sign would be allowed per business site, and they must be composed of individual letters.  The 100 square feet would be split with monumental signs on the site.

Window Signs

Window signs are not to exceed 25% of the total front window area.  They cannot be placed on doors or windows that would impede pedestrian safety or prohibit view by police.  Orth asked if the signs could be placed only on the inside, and Blise stated that they were not prohibited to that.  They can be exterior.  “We could correct that,” Orth stated.

Temporary Signs for Non-Profit Agencies

The restrictions for these signs are similar to those for banners.  They cannot exceed 24 square feet, and are not to exceed six feet in height.  They can remain up for a maximum of 30 days, and a maximum of four permits can be pulled per year.

Gas Station Signs

Monument signs would have a maximum of 40 square feet.  The maximum total price sign could have an area of 16 square feet, no more than ten square feet on each side.  The maximum sign on the building would be 50 square feet, and the maximum size of the signs on the pumps would be 160 square inches.  Orth also mentioned the “bazillion” ads around fast food places.  Blise stated that these are not permitted under today’s code, but that the current ordinance is not enforceable.  Brookfield only allows Federally-mandated octane ratings; they are very detailed.  Orth stated that he thought that was too much.  The committee gave their approval for signs that advertised gas prices as well as the price of a cup of coffee.

The new ordinance would not allow these type of signs:

  • Pylon Signs
  • Balloon/Inflatable Signs
  • Wall Signs without Individual Letters
  • Portable Signs (except for Churches/Schools/Civic Groups)

Alderperson Rocco LaMacchia stated that he had a problem not allowing sandwich board signs (or A-frame signs).  “These could make or break a cafe/restaurant business, especially in the downtown or uptown areas.”  The committee agreed that these would be allowed with specifications for location, size, and time frame.  These would be allowed for businesses that have no monument signs.  Blise stated that she had drafted an ordinance for these about a year ago, and she would resurrect it.   Orth stated that most of these signs would be on the right-of-way.

These are the types of signs that would be exempt from permits:

  • Nameplates Single-Family
  • Residential Sale or Lease Signs
  • Flags
  • Election Signs
  • Address Numbers
  • Temporary Church/School Signs
  • Historic Signs
  • Historical Markers
  • Building Markers
  • Public Signs
  • Temporary Right-of-Way Signs
  • Bulletin Boards
  • Incidental Signs
  • Commercial Signs in City Parks
  • Signs in Right-of-Way
  • Model Home Signs
  • Special Announcement Signs

At the end of the presentation, Wilke showed pictures of two current signs, one a U.S. Bank pylon sign, and another the freestanding sign for the 52nd Street Quick Shop, and what they could look like.

Downing asked when a rough draft could be written.  Wilke felt that he had a good framework, and that a draft could be brought back to the committee within 30 days.  The revised draft, incorporating tonight’s changes, would be sent to the City Attorney’s Office for review.

Orth suggested that a public meeting on signs be announced and advertised for interested business parties to attend and review the ordinance.  Copies of the draft would be available.  (This meeting would be similar to those held for street projects.)  “They need to be an open forum, informal, about two hours in length.  Not where a person has to sign in to speak.  It could be held at the museum, for example.  Department heads, the police department, and Paula Blise would be present.” Blise suggested placing the draft ordinance on the city’s website.

Orth stated that the only restriction he believed a business owner might have a problem with was the one not allowing wall signs without individual letters.  He believed that the Cold Stone Creamery had such a sign.

Wilke stated that, as he was touring the city to take example pictures, he thought that there were a lot of signs that were in compliance.

Downing stated that if it took longer than 30 days to get a draft together, that it would be ok.  “I’d rather it take a little longer, and get it right,” he stated.

LaMacchia was concerned about the A-frame signs.  He stated that he thought that there were some businesses that wanted to use them, but didn’t because they thought they were illegal.  Blise stated that she has not been enforcing this aspect of the ordinance.

Click here if you’d like to view this presentation for yourself:  On-Premise Sign Ordinance Presentation – 2012 03 26.

In other business conducted at tonight’s meeting, Luxury Limousine’s request for eight banners in the public right-of-way located at 6814 – 39th Avenue, was deferred for two weeks.  No one from the company was present.

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