Naperville Sign Code Update

On January 17, 2017, the Naperville City Council approved an update to the City’s Sign Code. 


In the summer of 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling changing the way municipalities may regulate signage. Essentially the court determined that regulations needed to be content neutral. Whereas existing codes across the country may, for instance, have a specific requirement for real estate signs (e.g. area, height, location), that differs from time and temperature signs, that differs from political signs, etc. That practice was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The bottom line is if you need to read the content of a sign to know what requirements apply to it, the ordinance is content specific and unacceptable. 

Sign Code Update

The approved copy of the Sign Code Update is available here.

The Naperville City Council conducted a first reading of the Sign Code Update on December 20, 2016. Through their discussion, they participated in a series of straw votes in order to provide clear direction for staff to prepare the final ordinance for their review and action. Of note, based on feedback received from the Plan Commission and public, the City Council directed staff to retain the 10-second interval for changeable message boards. A copy of the final ordinance was approved by the City Council on January 17, 2017.


The Naperville Sign Code Update has focused on three goals:

  1. Constitutionality
    Any update to the code must comply with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling from the Reed v. Gilbert Case and, therefore, be content neutral.  
  2. Customer-Friendly Approaches
    The purpose of the update is not to create additional regulations where they do not exist today. By and large, the existing sign code has been serving the City of Naperville well. As such, the update seeks to provide similar requirements as the existing code, but in a content neutral way. In addition, the update process is seeking to provide improved illustrations, overall code organization, improved definitions and streamlined processes.
  3. Address Clean-up Issues
    Some simple improvements have also been identified over the last few years to further improve the code. For example, renaming the code from “Street Graphics Control” to sign code is a simple, but meaningful, change.  
Update Process

Prior to the Reed vs. Gilbert decision, City staff had been identifying potential code updates through day-to-day administration of the code and common requests for variances. A number of the proposed changes were part of the Downtown2030 Plan approved by the Downtown Advisory Commission and City Council in 2011. Similarly, code improvements had been identified based on Naperville’s recently adopted commercial design standards, as well as, the Ogden Avenue Corridor Enhancement Initiative. 

The effort to update the sign code started with a team of experienced city staff with expertise in law, city planning, code enforcement, urban design, economic development and project management. The team researched and collaborated with professionals through the American Planning Association, Illinois Municipal Attorneys League, U.S. Highway Department (re: road speed and sign legibility standards) and more. They evaluated existing language in codes across the country and drafted, revised and debated new language for the code update. The process also included feedback with leadership from the Naperville Area Homeowners Confederation and the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce. Sign code professionals who routinely submit applications to the City for sign permits were asked to evaluate the proposed code as well. Efforts to gain public input and ideas will be an integral part of the sign code update including review and comment on-line, participation in surveys and activities as well as attendance and comments at meetings.