Madison Sign Ordinance for Custom Window Graphics & Signage

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Madison Graphics Company - Award Winning 3M Custom Window Graphics and Signs

Madison Graphics Company Adheres to Madison’s City Sign Ordinances


  • (1)Purpose and Intent. The Common Council, by enacting this ordinance, recognizes the City has a significant and substantial governmental interest in promoting public safety and aesthetic values through the regulation of signs displayed within the City of Madison. The purpose of this ordinance is to create the legal framework for a comprehensive but balanced system of signs, and thereby to facilitate an easy and pleasant communication between people and their environment. Sign regulations, including but not limited to those which control the type, design, size, location and maintenance of signs, are hereby established to further the goals of safety and aesthetics and achieve more specifically, the following purposes:
    • (a)To enable the public to locate goods, services and facilities without difficulty or confusion;
    • (b)To protect property values, public investment and overall neighborhood character by promoting an attractive, harmonious and aesthetically-pleasing environment and preventing conditions which have undesirable impacts on surrounding properties;
    • (c)To promote the development of attractive and harmonious residential areas, viable commercial areas and to identify industrial and other areas;
    • (d)To protect the public and promote safety, including but not limited to traffic and pedestrian safety; and to minimize effects of signs which may distract or obstruct visibility of official traffic signals and other safety or informational devices; and
    • (e)To protect scenic views and the visual environment along all city streets, highways and rights-of-way and to promote overall aesthetics, avoid clutter and avoid inappropriate scale;
    • (f)To recognize the role of appropriate and identifiable signage in helping businesses inform, direct and communicate with customers; and (Cr. by ORD-15-00118, 10-28-15)
    • (g)Recognition that signage is not intended to serve as a principal or sole use of a zoning lot. (Renum. by ORD-15-00118, 10-28-15)
  • (2)Scope.  This ordinance shall apply to all signs in the City of Madison. However, this ordinance shall not be construed to amend or conflict with any other ordinances or applicable law governing official traffic signs or signals.


(1)Rules . In the construction of this ordinance, the rules and definitions contained in this section shall be observed and applied, except when the context clearly indicates otherwise:(a)Words used in the present tense shall include the future.(b)Words in the singular number shall include the plural number, and the plural the singular.(c)The word “shall” is mandatory and not discretionary.(d)The word “may” is permissive.(e)All references to section numbers are Madison General Ordinances, unless otherwise noted.(2)Definitions . For the purposes of this ordinance, the terms listed below shall have the following definitions:

Above-Roof Sign.

  • A sign displayed above the roofline.

Accessory Sign.

  • A commercial wall sign on a large building, subordinate in area to the principal sign, located elsewhere than the primary sign-able area, listing other businesses or generic services or departments in the building, such as pharmacy, optical, auto repair, garden center and excluding product brand names.

Advertising Sign.

  • A sign containing a commercial message directing attention to a business, commodity, service, or entertainment, not related to the premises at which the sign is located, or directing attention to a business, commodity, service or entertainment conducted, sold or offered elsewhere than on the premises where the sign is located. Signs on City-sponsored bicycle-sharing facilities and the bicycles provided as part of a city-sponsored bicycle-sharing program located in the right-of-way or on other City lands in compliance with Sec. 10.33 are not advertising signs as defined herein and are not regulated by this ordinance.


  • Any major change made to an existing sign, other than routine maintenance, painting or change of copy of an existing sign.

Architectural Detail.

  • Any projections, relief, change of material, window or door opening that is on the facade of a building. Where an overall consistent pattern of projections or reliefs exists on a signable area, they shall not be considered architectural details.

Attention-getting Object.

  • An object made of flexible material whether or not it contains text, logos or any other images such as a streamer, pinwheel, pennant or other such device; suspended, hung, pinned or otherwise fastened to a sign or other structure in such a manner that the object is permitted to spin, fly, flap or otherwise move in the wind. Flags and decorative and promotional banners allowed under Sec. 31.075 are not considered “attention getting objects.”


  • A roof like cover, temporary in nature that projects from the wall of a building.

Awning, Internally Illuminated.

  • An awning consisting of a rigid frame covered with vinyl, plastic, or other translucent material that is internally illuminated.


  • A suspended sign made of a flexible material such as canvas, sailcloth, plastic or waterproof paper.

Banner, Decorative.

  • A banner containing no message or logo that is displayed for the purpose of adding color and interest to the surroundings or to the building to which it is attached.

Banner, Promotional.

  • A banner or series of banners containing a noncommercial message displayed to call attention to cultural events, charity campaigns or neighborhood sponsored activities or any other noncommercial event or message.

Building Entrance Identification Sign.

  • A commercial wall sign used to identify non-residential building entrances such as, “Emergency Room Entrance”, “Lubrication,” “Wash Rack,” as may be customarily found on Large Buildings as defined herein.

Building Line.

  • A line established by ordinance beyond which no building may extend. A building line may be referred to as “required setback”.

Business Opening Sign.

  • A sign displayed in addition to permitted wall, roof, above-roof and ground signs; displayed on the premises of a new building or new business or the premises of an existing business upon a change of name or change of ownership; and displayed for a period not to exceed thirty (30) days.

Business Sign.

  • A commercial sign used for identification purposes, which directs attention to a business or profession conducted upon the premises at which the sign is located, which may also refer to goods or services produced, offered for sale or obtained at such premises.


  • A permanent roof structure over a space that is completely unenclosed on at least two (2) sides.

Canopy, Attached.

  • A canopy that is attached to and supported by a building, which may also be supported by additional vertical ground supports or other structures.

Canopy, Detached.

  • A canopy that is a permanent, free-standing roofed-over structure, with four open sides, accessory to but not attached to a principal building.

Changeable Copy Sign (Electronic).

  • A sign, any portion of which displays or has the ability to display electronically illuminated, scrolling or moving text, symbols or other images, utilizing LED, LCD or other digital or electronic technology, commonly known as electronic message or reader boards, electronic marquees, message centers or moving message displays.

Changeable Copy Sign (Manual).

  • Any sign that includes copy, letters, numbers, or symbols that are designed to be changed through manual, mechanical or other non-digital means.

Change of Use.

  • Change in use of the premises from one use category listed in Chapter 28 (the Zoning Code) to another use category listed in Chapter 28.

Comprehensive Design Review.

  • A process whereby the Madison Urban Design Commission (“UDC”) reviews all existing and proposed signs on a building, building site or zoning lot upon request of an applicant who is seeking to have a Comprehensive Sign Plan approved. The UDC may recognize unique, exceptional and innovative effort to integrate signs with building architecture and materials by approving a Comprehensive Sign Plan that includes special allowances for all signs within a building site or zoning lot, and which may also incorporate other approvals authorized in Sec. 31.043(3).

Comprehensive Sign Plan.

  • A complete signage plan for a building or zoning lot that has been approved by the Urban Design Commission through a Comprehensive Design Review.

Condominium Identification Sign.

  • An Identification Sign for a condominium established under Chapter 703 of the Wisconsin Statutes, that displays the name, address(es) and number(s) of the buildings(s) located within a single condominium.

Construction Directional Sign.

  • A temporary sign displayed on private property for a limited period of time, to identify the location of and entrance to a business that remains open when normal access or pedestrian or vehicle traffic flow has been diverted by construction or road work.

Curb Level .

  • The curb level for any building is the level of the established curb in front of such building measured at the center of such front. Where no curb elevation has been established, the City Engineer shall establish such curb elevation.

Design Extension.

  • Any addition to a sign that is added to or protrudes from the top, sides, or lower edge of the main or principal portion of the sign.

Detached Building.

  • A building surrounded by open space on the same lot or built to the lot line.

Digital Image Sign (Static).

  • A sign, any portion of which displays static or stationary illuminated digital images, produced by technology such as LED (light emitting diode) or LCD (liquid crystal display) display screens, plasma, high-definition, interactive touch-screen, or other such technology.

Digital Image Sign (Animated).

  • A Digital Image Sign as defined above, any portion of which is capable of producing an animated or moving digital or video image.

Electric Sign.

  • Any sign utilizing electric wiring, material, or devices.

Electronic Message Board.

  • See Changeable Copy Sign (Electronic Message Board).

External Lighting Fixtures.

  • For purposes of this Chapter, shall mean lighting sources (as defined in Sec. 10.085(2)) which are electrically powered illuminating devices, lighted or reflective surfaces, lamps and similar devices, permanently installed or portable, used to illuminate a sign.


  • Any separate face or surface of a building, including parapet walls, and roof surfaces or any part of a building which encloses or covers usable space. Where separate facades are oriented in the same direction, or where the inside angle at the intersection of two surfaces is greater than one-hundred and thirty-five (135) degrees, they are to be considered as part of a single facade.


  • A device generally made of flexible material, such as cloth, paper, or plastic, and displayed from a pole, cable or rope. It may or may not include copy. This definition does not include the flag of any country, state, city, county, corporation or institution.

Flashing Sign.

  • A sign that includes a message or any other component that flashes on and off, blinks or varies in intensity, with intermittent bursts of light, color, brightness, or other feature of any kind that produces a visual flashing effect.

Gross Area.

  • The total area of the sign, including all supporting structures, viewed from the direction the sign is facing; calculated within a single continuous perimeter enclosing the smallest possible square or rectangle, or a combination of not more than three (3) of the smallest possible squares or rectangles that can be drawn around a sign of an irregular shape; enclosing the extreme limits of such sign, with sides that are perpendicular to the ground. Said perimeter shall not pass through or between any adjacent elements of the sign except when more than one square or rectangle is drawn around a sign of an irregular shape, in which case each square or rectangle must be immediately adjacent to the next so that there is no gap between them. If sign copy is displayed on more than one face of a single sign structure, all sides of the sign structure displaying sign copy shall be included in the gross area, by adding together the total square footage of the two-dimensional area encompassing each side of the structure that displays sign copy.

Ground Sign.

  • A freestanding sign supported permanently upon the ground and not attached to any building. For purposes of this Ordinance, Ground Signs include only Pole or Monument Signs as defined herein.

Identification Sign.

  • A sign located in the Group 1 districts displayed for the purpose of identifying the building and address, building occupant or management, and any lawful home occupation or business that may be allowed under Chapter 28.

Inflatable Sign.

  • A freestanding or moored sign expanded or inflated with air or another gas, like a balloon, and which may rise and float above the ground.


  • A freestanding structure upon which temporary information or notices may be posted.

Large Buildings.

  • Those buildings exceeding one hundred twenty-five (125) feet in length or having five (5) stories or more in height.

Legacy Sign.

  • A sign that has been approved by the Urban Design Commission under Sec. 31.043(3)(j).


  • A symbol or trademark commonly used to identify a business or organization but which in itself contains no more than two (2) words or numerals.


  • (See Canopy.)

Menu or Merchandise Board.

  • A type of wall sign displayed on the exterior of a building which may include manual changeable copy, may be enclosed in a protective case, and is oriented toward pedestrians to provide information regarding the establishment, such as a restaurant menu, a menu of services, or a list of merchandise. (Am. by ORD-15-00118, 10-28-15)

Merchandise Sign.

  • A sign made of flexible nonmetallic material attached to, and advertising, merchandise displayed outside of an enclosed building.

Monument Sign.

  • A Ground Sign supported by and integrated into an internal structural framework or some other solid structural features other than a pole or poles, if the total width of such supporting structure(s) is more than one-third (⅓) of the width of the net area of the sign copy it supports.

Motion Sign.

  • Any sign possessing visible moving parts or parts that appear to move, including signs that are designed with automatic moving parts in order to change the copy, such as “tri-vision” signs.


  • A picture illustration or abstract expression containing no commercial message applied directly to and made integral with a wall or window surface.

Net Area.

  • The entire area within a single continuous perimeter enclosing the smallest possible square or rectangle drawn around the sign copy; or a combination of not more than three (3) of the smallest possible squares or rectangles that can be drawn around sign copy of an irregular shape; enclosing the extreme limits of such sign copy with sides that are perpendicular to the ground. The perimeter shall not pass through or between any adjacent elements of the sign copy except when more than one square or rectangle is drawn around sign copy of an irregular shape, in which case each square or rectangle must be immediately adjacent to the next so that there is no space between them. If the sign copy is contained entirely within one sign can or board, the entire area of the can or board shall be measured to determine the net area. If the sign copy is contained within multiple sign cans or boards, then all cans or boards shall be measured using the methods for sign copy of an irregular shape, above. The net area shall not include any structural elements lying outside the limits of the sign copy and not forming an integral part of the display. For the purpose of window signs, any background material under Sec. 31.10(2) shall be included in the measurement of net area.

Nonconforming Sign.

  • Any sign does not comply with the regulations of this ordinance.

Nonconforming Use.

  • Any use of land or buildings does not comply with the regulations of Chapter 28 (Zoning Code).


  • For the purposes of this ordinance, the term number shall mean a number or combination of numerals used to identify or designate one particular item such as a quantity, price, telephone number or address of a property.

Off-Premise Directional Sign. 

  • commercial sign displayed on the ground, designed to guide or direct the public to a business, service or entertainment activity.

Parking Lot Directional Sign.

  • A sign that is necessary, for safety or promoting traffic flow, to guide or direct pedestrian or vehicular traffic to a location on the premises on which the sign is located.

Parking Lot Regulation Sign.

  • A sign designating the conditions of use or identity of such parking area, including identification and labeling of individual parking stalls, except for signs that are required by law to identify certain parking stalls or parking areas.


  • A tapered or dove-tailed banner or flag.


  • May include a firm, association, organization, partnership, trust, company, or corporation as well as an individual.

Pole Sign.

  • A Ground Sign that is supported by one or more poles or other supporting structures, if the total width of the pole(s) or supporting structure(s) is one third (⅓) or less than the width of the net area of the sign copy it supports. The width of all pole(s) and supporting structures at their widest point and any space between poles or supports shall be included when measuring the total width of the pole(s) and supporting structure(s).

Portable Sign.

  • A sign that is not permanently attached to the ground or a building or not designed to be permanently attached to the ground or a building, including but not limited to, trailers or other vehicles that are used principally as a sign, posters, “sandwich boards” or other freestanding signboards, regardless of whether such signs are attached to the ground or to a building or structure.

Principal Building .

  • A non-accessory building in which is conducted the principal use of the lot on which it is located.

Project Sign .

  • A temporary commercial sign on private property, describing a construction or improvement project including the names of contractors, architects, engineers, investors, owners or occupants.

Projecting Sign.

  • A sign that is attached to the wall of a building and projects more than fifteen (15) inches beyond such wall.

Public Information Board.

  • A free-standing structure that is oriented toward pedestrians for the purpose of posting leaflet-like temporary notices.

Real Estate Sign.

  • A sign advertising the sale, lease, or rental of the property upon which it is located.

Roof Line.

  • The uppermost line of the roof of a building, including original parapets.

Roof Sign.

  • A sign erected on the roof of a building no portion of which is above the roof line.

Rotating Sign.

  • (See Motion Sign)


  • A scoreboard is a display located inside an enclosed athletic field at a school, park or other public or private athletic complex, designed solely for view from spectator areas within the athletic field complex.

Sidewalk Showcase.

  • A freestanding structure consisting of an enclosed display case or cabinet, used to display information or notices, located on a public or private sidewalk or sidewalk area.


  • Any device, structure, fixture, or placard, including its supporting base, frame, electrical and all other accessory components, using text, graphics, symbols and/or other written copy for the primary purpose of identifying, providing directions, or advertising any establishment, product, goods, or services; located outside of a building or within three (3) feet of the interior of a window and which is visible from the exterior.

Sign Copy.

  • The portion of a sign comprised of any combination of text, graphics, symbols, images, and/or other written copy, whether it is displayed within or outside of a sign can or board.

Signable Area.

  • One designated area of the facade of the building up to the roof line that is free of doors, windows (for purposes of this definition, spandrel panels or other non-vision glass used as an exterior building material are not considered windows) or other major architectural detail, that extends no higher than the juncture of the wall and the roof, or in the case of a facade that includes a parapet wall, no more than four (4) vertical feet of the parapet wall, upon which signs are to be displayed.

Street Occupancy Signs.

  • Signs displayed on street occupancy barricades, passageways and fences that have been erected pursuant to a valid street occupancy permit issued under Sec. 10.055(4)(o); denoting only the owner, occupant, architect, engineer or contractor(s) of the project for which the street occupancy permit was issued. (Am. by ORD-15-00036, 4-8-15)

Swinging Sign .

  • (See Motion Sign)


  • Something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, convention or resemblance placed or erected for public view as a sign or as a part of a sign.

Time and/or Temperature Sign.

  • A flashing sign giving the time and/or temperature.

Wall Sign.

  • A sign that is attached to a wall of a building and is affixed parallel to the wall at a distance of not more than fifteen (15) inches from the surface of the wall.

Window Sign.

  • Any sign that is displayed, painted on, applied to, or affixed to the exterior or interior of a window; or displayed within three (3) feet of the interior of a window; and that is visible from the exterior. For purposes of this ordinance, “window” shall include any glass or transparent panels on exterior doors. Merchandise available for purchase within the premises and displayed within three (3) feet of the interior of a window shall not be considered a window sign under this definition.

Zoning Administrator.

  • When used in this Chapter, Zoning Administrator means the Zoning Administrator or his/her designee.


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