Newcastle Sign Code Summaries
Posted on 05/15/2019

After months of deliberation, the Newcastle City Council adopted a new sign code in April that both complies with a U.S. Supreme Court decision and allows City staff to better enforce it. 

The Reed v. Gilbert decision is driving jurisdictions to re-evaluate their sign regulations to ensure they don’t violate freedom of speech. In Reed v. Gilbert, the Supreme Court determined that a code that makes any distinctions based on the sign’s message is unlawfully content based. This position had the effect of making many sign codes across the United States, including Newcastle’s, unconstitutional. It’s not uncommon to see codes with certain content-based regulations for real estate, political and garage sale signs.

In March 2017, City staff introduced a model sign code drafted in response to the Reed decision. The model code was crafted, in part, by Newcastle’s own Community Development Director Steve Osguthorpe, and was made available to all jurisdictions as a baseline to ensure their regulations conformed with the Supreme Court decision.

Under Director Osguthorpe’s leadership, the City’s all-volunteer Planning Commission spent several months gathering public feedback and recommending specific changes to ensure the code reflected Newcastle values. 

There are a number of changes to the existing code, but one of the most noteworthy is the provision that regulates a sign based on the durability of its materials, rather than the sign’s message or content. Signs that are made of non-durable materials, such as paper, are considered temporary signs. Signs made of materials that are considered permanent (wood or hard plastic, for example) are subject to more restrictive permitting requirements, with some exceptions.

Director Osguthorpe developed summaries outlining general information and regulations for each of the two sign types. Click the links below to learn more about the new sign code:

Sign Code Summary: Temporary Signs (PDF)
Sign Code Summary: Permanent Signs (PDF)

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