Sign Code

Why Update the Sign Code?

The City of Olympia has not updated its sign code in several years. The existing sign code can be confusing to understand by businesses and the public, and can be challenging to administer for city staff.

Read the legal analysis summary

The updated sign code will be streamlined and simplified to increase clarity and will address related court cases.

There have also been many changes in the sign industry over the last several years and newer types of signs are becoming more common. The City will consider these signs and determine how to address them.

In addition, because of a recent Supreme Court ruling regarding temporary signs, it is imperative that the City update or rewrite its sign code.

In June 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision related to temporary signs in the Reed et al v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona (Reed v. Gilbert) case, which provided direction to cities, towns, and counties regarding regulation of signs, particularly for temporary signs, in regard to content and freedom of speech.

In August 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in a related case (Contest Promotions v. City and County of San Francisco), holding that Reed v. Town of Gilbert does not extend to commercial speech.

Update Timeline

CP&D has incorporated development of a new sign code into its work plan for 2016 and into 2017. This work began in September 2016 and will conclude when a draft is written, reviewed by the advisory committees and the public, has gone through a public hearing, and is considered by the City Council. The timeline will incorporate input from residents, businesses, and stakeholders and is expected to conclude in mid-2018.

Public Participation

Public engagement is an integral part of this planning process, view our complete Public Participation Process outline here. Active engagement is needed from all interested parties including residents, businesses, and sign companies. City staff is proposing the follow outreach methods:

Policy Advisory Committee


Meeting Summaries

"Homework" Response Summaries

Two advisory committees will be convened.

  1. A technical advisory committee (TAC) will consist of people representing a wide variety of interests (e.g. the sign industry, businesses (big, small, and minority owned), realtors, the building department, Design Review Board, and the Coalition of Neighborhood Associations). This committee will be formed once a draft code is prepared and will be tasked with reviewing the draft for issues related to safety, construction, and enforcement.
  2. A policy advisory committee (PAC) will focus on the policy direction of the revised sign code update and consist of members of the Planning and Heritage Commissions, the Design Review Board, faith based organizations, automobile retailers, and others (e.g. neighborhood association representatives, community members, the Economic Development Council, Chamber of Commerce, Olympia Downtown Association, and West Olympia Business Association). The list of Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) members is now available. This committee will discuss and provide feedback on issues regarding sign types, sizes, and placement.

There will be multiple public meetings to share progress and accept feedback during the sign code development process. Meeting details will be posted on this web page when they are available.

  • December 2016 Coalition of Neighborhoods Associations  Handout
  • March 2017 Coalition of Neighborhoods Associations  PowerPoint
  • March 2017 West Olympia Business Association  PowerPoint
  • May 2017 Olympia Downtown Association  Scheduled  PowerPoint

CP&D staff anticipate bringing a draft Sign Code to the Olympia Planning Commission in the spring of 2018. The Commission will have updates and briefings on the proposal periodically throughout the process.

CP&D staff may provide briefings or seek feedback from other City of Olympia Advisory Committees, such as the Heritage Commission, for portions of the proposed sign code.

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposal before making a recommendation to City Council.

  • Planning Commission November 2016  Handout
  • Planning Commission February 2017  Handout
  • Planning Commission April 2017  PowerPoint

CP&D staff will provide periodic briefings to City Council Committees throughout the process.

Land Use & Environment Committee

The Olympia Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the City Council on the Sign Code Update. The Council may hold an additional public hearing on it but is not required to do so. It is anticipated that Council will make a decision regarding the Sign Code Update in spring or summer of 2018.


Contact Joyce Phillips at 360.570.3722 or