Downtown Chapel Hill Sign Ordinance Quick Reference

In June 2016 the Chapel Hill Town Council approved a revision to the Town’s Sign Ordinance bringing many changes to the allowable signs in Chapel Hill. 

This guide should act as a quick resource to answer common questions about Chapel Hill’s Sign Ordinance.  This is not the full ordinance, and as of 7/1/16 the new ordinance has not been uploaded to Municode.  For now refer the agenda packet found at http://bit.ly/29aOL2A .  This contains the full language of the new ordinance. Remember, any sign installed in Chapel Hill must be permitted.  Click Here to get information about acquiring your sign permit.

The information in this guide is designed to give guidance for businesses in Downtown Chapel Hill (also known as TC-1,2 or 3).  Signage rules are slightly different for different zoning areas.  For design guidance for downtown businesses are welcome to contact Bobby Funk with the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership (919-967-9440: bobby@downtownchapelhill.com)

The Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership offers matching grants for façade improvements including signage improvements.  To apply visit http://www.downtownchapelhill.com/facadegrant

Five Things to Know about the New Sign Ordinance

  1. You may allocate up to 5% of your façade area for signage
  2. Wall signs may now be installed up to 54’ above the sidewalk
  3. Your sign allocation is no longer cut in half if it is internally lit
  4. Unified sign plans are no longer required for businesses on the same piece of property downtown 
  5. Graphics and logos on signs are no longer required to be registered with the State of North Carolina (artistic treatments where graphics don't specifically reference commercial information are not regulated and generally don't require permits)

General Signage Rules

You may use up to 5% of your façade area for signage.  The signage types that count toward your 5% allocation are Wall Signs, Awning Signs, Canopy Signs, and Projecting Signs:

Wall Signs – any sign attached or painted to the wall or window of a building.

  • Wall signs can be placed up to 54’ above the sidewalk. 
  • Signage in windows may take up no more than 15% of the area of the window
  • Max size for an individual wall sign is 250sqft (only applicable if 5% of façade area is greater than 250sqft)

Wall Sign

Awning Signs – a sign where graphics are attached to an awning

  • Not allowed above the ground story
  • Awnings must clear 8’ above the sidewalk
  • Messages can only be 12” tall
  • Width of the signage can’t be wider than 75% of the awning width
  • Text may be placed on the front, side or slant of an awning 

Awning Sign

Canopy Sign – a sign placed at the front edge of a canopy

  • Must not extend outside the overall length or width of the canopy, however, may extend above or below the canopy, provided the clear height is met.
  •  May be externally or internally illuminated
  • Messages can only be 24” tall
  • Width of the signage can’t be wider than 75% of the canopy width
  • Canopies must clear 10’ above the sidewalk
  • A maximum of 1 sign is permitted per canopy

Canopy Sign

Projecting Sign – a sign mounted to the wall of a building with a display that projects 12” or more from the structure

  • May be erected on a building corner when the building corner adjoins the intersection of two streets. Allocation of sign area from both frontages may be used for a corner projecting sign, provided it does not exceed the allowed height and width.
  • No portion may extend above the roof line or above a parapet wall of a building with a at roof. No portion may extend above the lower eave line of a building with a pitched roof.
  • On buildings 5+ stories, the projecting sign must be located below the window sills of the 5th story.
  • May be externally or internally illuminated (For internally illuminated signs, the background must be opaque or a substantially darker color than the sign message)
  • Height
    • Mounted below 2nd Floor:
    • Mounted between 2nd and 3rd Floor:
    • Mounted between 3rd and 4th Floor:
    • Mounted between 4th and 5th Floor: 16’
  • Max Width: 4’
  • Max Depth: 1’
  • Projecting signs must clear 10’ above the sidewalk

Projecting Sign

Projecting Sign


In addition to each of the sign types above, each downtown business may install a Shingle Sign if they wish.  A Shingle sign does not count toward your 5% façade area calculation.

Single Sign – A small projecting sign that hangs from a bracket or support and is located over or near a building entrance

  • Must be located within 5’ of an accessible building entrance
  • Hanging bracket must be an integral part of design
  • Must be located below the window sills of the 2nd story of a multi-story building or below the roof line of a 1-story building
  • May be externally or internally illuminated
  • Max height: 3’
  • Max width: 3’
  • Shingle signs must be located at least 25 feet from any other shingle sign or projecting sign

Shingle Sign

Sidewalk Signs - Sidewalk signs are allowable downtown

  • Max height
  • Max width
  • There may be no more than 1 sidewalk sign per
  • Sidewalk signs must not obstruct vehicular, bicycle or pedestrian traffic and must comply with ADA clearance and accessibility[
  • Signs must be removed and placed indoors at close of business each day

Other Details

For information about illumination, sign measurement, and other allowable sign types refer to the full ordinance found in the link at the top of this document.