Zoning Sign Permits

A Zoning Sign Permit is required prior to installation of most signs. All new signage and material changes to signage should be reviewed with the Zoning Staff to verify whether a Zoning Sign Permit is required.

Zoning staff is available for walk-in customers between the hours of 8:00am and 4:00pm Monday through Friday. No appointment needed.

Signage is regulated under Section 40.2-307 of the City’s Zoning Ordinance. Unless exempted in accordance with Section 40.2-307(F), any installation, erection, construction, alteration, or maintenance of a sign shall comply with the standards of the Zoning Ordinance.

Compliance with the Zoning regulations is required in addition to any applicable provisions of the Uniform Statewide Building Code, the Virginia Outdoor Advertising Act, the 1950 Code of Virginia Sec. 33.1-351, et seq, and any other applicable codes. 

Signs in the Historic Districts or in the Downtown Design Overlay District must receive a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) and must show compliance with with the requirements of the respective design guidelines and be approved by the Historic Preservation Commission or the Downtown Design Committee.

Except for temporary signs installed in accordance with City Code Section 40.2-307(K), all signs shall be permanently installed as defined by the Uniform Statewide Building Code. Installation using ropes, cords, and the like is not considered permanent.

The following are subject to the standards in the Zoning Ordinance but do not require issuance of a Zoning Permit.

  • Routine maintenance of a sign or changing of lettering or parts of signs designed to be regularly changed, including sign face changes
  • For each residential structure, and for each public entrance to a nonresidential or mixed use structure, one sign that is permanently attached to the structure if the sign does not exceed 2 square feet in area
  • For each roadway frontage on a parcel of land upon which construction activities of any type are being performed, one temporary sign that does not exceed 32 square feet in area in a commercial or industrial zoning district or 24 square feet in area any other zoning district
  • A temporary sign securely and tautly affixed to temporary protective fencing erected around an area where construction activities of any type are being performed
  • For each roadway frontage on a parcel of land that is actively marketed for sale, lease, or rent, one-yard sign that does not exceed 4 square feet in a residential zoning district, 8 square feet in a mixed-use zoning district, and 16 square feet in any other zoning district
  • In addition to signage required by state or federal law, signs attached to a gas pump that do not exceed 4 square feet in area
  • Window signs located in the NMU, GMU, IN, and WF districts; and if consistent with applicable adopted design standards, window signs located in the MU-H district
  • Signs oriented toward the interior of and intended to be viewed from within an outdoor recreation or entertainment establishment or facility
zoning sign permit

Outdoor Advertising Signs (Billboards)

These signs require a Use Permit in accordance with the following:

A Use Permit must be obtained prior to undertaking any of the following activities:

  • Installation of a new outdoor advertising sign
  • Replacement of an outdoor advertising sign
  • Changing the technology of the sign face on an outdoor advertising sign, including a conversion to an LED electronic display

The Use Permit process can be found on this page. Use Permits

Zoning Sign Permit Application

The Zoning Sign Permit Application can be downloaded here. Zoning Sign Permit Application

Applicants should be sure to consult the checklist on the application to ensure that all the required information and materials are included with the application when it is submitted. The Zoning staff can be consulted if additional information is needed prior to submitting an application.

Applicants should ensure that the following items are included.

  1. Completed Zoning Sign Permit application, with details of EACH sign provided on additional sheets.
  2. Façade dimensions and square footage
  3. Sign Renderings/Specifications – Materials, Heights, Dimensions
  4. Surveys for Free Standing Signs – Showing placement and setbacks from the right of way.
  5. Manufacturer’s Specifications for the illumination showing:
    1. Luminance at 1500 nits during daylight hours
    2. Luminance at 150 nits at all other times
    3. The light comes with automatic dimmer

The Zoning Sign Permit Application Fee is $30.00 plus applicable review fee as established in City Code Appendix A Portsmouth Fee Schedule. (Note that fee will be paid after permit is approved.)

Credit card payments can now be accepted over the phone. Please call the Planning Department at 757-393-8836 for more information. Please note that a signed credit card authorization form is required to be submitted before a credit card payment can be processed.

Zoning Sign Permit Application Submission

Completed applications should be submitted by email whenever possible. Email applications and associated supporting materials for Zoning Sign Permits to [email protected].

Electronic/digital submission of applications and other materials is encouraged whenever feasible.

Zoning application materials and documents should not be placed in any dropbox or included with submissions to other city departments. 

Required documents must be submitted directly to the Zoning staff and are required in addition to documents submitted to other departments.

For items that cannot be emailed, applicants can send items by US Postal Service, FedEx, or UPS (as appropriate for the application type).



Please note that after the zoning sign permit is approved, the applicant will need to apply separately for a building permit with the Department of Permits and Inspections.