What to Consider When Developing a Comprehensive Sign Plan

Despite the time and expense, a Comprehensive Sign Plan (CSP) has offered our clients in commercial real estate numerous benefits over the long-term. Better design coupled with thoughtful wayfinding all through a customized signage program will uniquely position and visually enhance your campus, community or real estate investment.  


Realistically, a CSP takes four to six months to plan, design and produce and then another six (or more) months for county review and approval. The professional services team that produces a CSP is typically overseen by a signage designer and land-use attorney and often includes a civil engineer and landscape architect. Depending on whether you’re submitting for a Comprehensive Sign Plan or Comprehensive Sign Plan Amendment (CSPA) the county submission fees vary between $4,000-8,000.  

With this in mind, our clients have found the benefits of a CSP compelling, typically outweighing the time and associated costs. Let’s take a look at the positives of developing a CSP.

Benefits of a Comprehensive Sign Plan 



Signage regulations are defined and outlined by the county in the zoning ordinance. These regulations are a generalized approach to organizing, authorizing and policing sign quantities, sizes and locations. As such, I’ve had clients find them limiting or worse, a one-size-fits-all approach that inhibits positioning opportunities. 

A CSP allows you to completely redefine the limits of your signage program and develop a new program that is customized to fit your property and your positioning. By far, size and scale are the main reasons our clients end up moving forward with a CSP. They want signs that are larger, allowing for maximum visibility, whether it be for tenants or simply to act as a placemaking opportunity. 

In order to ensure we’ve considered all the possibilities, we always kick off our CSP projects with a phase of due diligence. During this phase we study the existing architectural and wayfinding conditions and develop a matrix of existing signs overlaid by a matrix of potential opportunities. We present our findings to ownership, property management and leasing teams so they can weigh in and provide additional insight. Simply by outlining what is existing, this phase often uncovers pain points and opportunities. This step is critical to maximizing a sign program that is fully considered and customized for years to come. It is, by far, the most obvious benefit and reason to consider a CSP.

A CSP allows you to completely redefine the limits of your signage program and develop a new program that is customized to fit your property and your positioning.

Improved Wayfinding

Over the course of the last 10 to 15 years, we’ve seen significant changes in development, bringing new roads with more traffic, new campuses and zoning or even a Metro stop right outside the front door. These use changes often require new or additional wayfinding signage, beyond what is permitted in the zoning ordinance. Any wayfinding signs that are visible from a major thoroughfare require a permit, so with additional infrastructure comes the potential for additional signage requirements. A CSP allows you to define the best wayfinding approach for your property given the current environment while also taking into account the planned development that may occur in the adjacent parcel in the future. 

With improved wayfinding we also consider asking for additional square feet for building-mounted tenant signage. This idea alone has become the most important reason for several of our clients to proceed with a CSP. The zoning ordinance regulates the maximum allowable sign area (MASA) for building-mounted signage based on linear frontage. In the best case scenario, we have been able to double MASA calculations and increase the maximum sign area for any single tenant sign from 200SF to 250SF.

Branded Design

To be clear, the zoning ordinance doesn’t provide parameters for design itself, and we have designed thoughtful systems that fall within the zoning ordinance. By design, I mean a fully curated and systematic approach to a development or real estate asset by considering all the signs together and how they work as a complementary system. 

This is often hard to achieve through the zoning ordinance itself, because often signs are required, permitted and installed on different timelines to meet different requirements by different teams. A customized approach that considers current and future opportunities, all designed cohesively together, creates a fully branded approach. 

Permanent Marketing

Once a sign is installed, it’s working day and night to enhance and support your brand. With a comprehensively designed plan, all signs work as a system and align using the same shape, materials, colors, typography, scale and technology. The wayfinding is planned together, so their proximity to each other, the buildings and the property as a whole aligns through spatial consistency. This applies to freestanding signs, building-mounted tenant signs and artistic features that enhance and establish placemaking. When all parts of the system are designed and considered together, a natural balance is automatically achieved. The harmony of a system working together instinctively feels right, and because it’s intended to last for many years, the up-front effort is time intentionally well spent.

Start with a Sign Allowance Matrix.


Often we begin the wayfinding planning process to determine if a CSP is the best move forward with a site survey and signage overview plan. This plan starts with a review of all existing signage so it aligns with the current building MASA as calculated by the signage ordinance. With all quantities and permit numbers in hand, the overview plan begins with a matrix that outlines everything on the property by line with square footage totals. This matrix can then easily be used for permit applications and as an easy reference for property managers going forward. From there each sign is identified and marked on the sign plan with a list of recommendations to consider at the end of the document. 

I always recommend to a prospective client that they start with a signage overview plan. This step will allow you to fully identify and understand what’s existing and what opportunities you have in front of you, just as the zoning ordinance sets forward. It’s also much less expensive and time intensive. Depending on the property and situation, this type of plan is enough to get you started down a path towards more unified and beautiful wayfinding.