Sign Ordinance Information

Plans Review and Inspections Director

Peter Ahrens
(865) 215-4311

400 Main St., Suite 475
Knoxville, TN 37902

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Sign Ordinance adopted July 21, 2015, by City Council


The process of revising the City of Knoxville’s sign ordinance started in February 2012, when City Council appointed a citizen Sign Ordinance Task Force to conduct a comprehensive review of the City’s sign regulations. Councilman Duane Grieve served as chair of the task force and Councilman George Wallace served as its vice chair.

The task force met over a three-year period, leading to a specially-called City Council meeting on April 9, 2015, to discuss and vote on proposed amendments to the Sign Ordinance. The council voted to send the ordinance back to the Metropolitan Planning Commission to consider further specific issues.

MPC staff recommended amendments, and on June 11, 2015, MPC unanimously approved a draft of the ordinance.

City Council then legislated additional changes and passed the ordinance in its present form on July 21, 2015.


The ordinance divides aspects of sign regulations into 15 separate, clearly-organized sections.

In addition to making regulatory changes, one objective of the ordinance update was simply to make it easier for citizens and permit applicants to find and understand the provisions of the ordinance.

Previously, the sign regulations – some untouched for decades – were poorly organized. The old ordinance was not easy to navigate.

The new ordinance centralizes all regulations of signs in one place, presented in an orderly lineup of sections that allows users to more quickly find a specific provision and access information.


Section 11 of the ordinance deals with sign regulations in specific zone districts. In one subsection, it sets maximum sign heights and maximum square footage for primary detached signs in commercial and industrial zone districts, based on the classification of the road where the sign is located. (For a map of all designated U.S. highways in the City of Knoxville, click here.)

Property within 500 feet of interstate interchange area 35 feet
Property adjacent to interstate right-of-way 30 feet
Property fronting on federally designated highways 20 feet
All other roadway classifications 10 feet
Property within 500 feet of interstate interchange area 200 square feet
Property adjacent to interstate right-of-way 200 square feet
Property fronting on federally designated highways 165 square feet
All other roadway classifications 100 square feet


Section 11 also outlines the maximum allowable size for attached signs (signs permanently affixed to or painted on a building or wall) in specific zone districts.

How is the maximum allowable size for these attached signs calculated? That’s detailed in Section 6.4 of the ordinance.

Examples of some of the regulations by zone districts:

• Agricultural and Open Space (nameplates or wall signs for approved home occupations) – 2 square feet
• Floodway (identification signs for parks and playgrounds) – 9 square feet
• Historic Overlay (information signs, subject to approval by the Historic Zoning Commission) – 9 square feet
• Residential (approved home occupations) – 2 square feet
• Residential (boarding houses, fraternities, sororities) – 9 square feet
• Residential (smaller medical facilities, clubhouses for nonprofit organizations, studios and daycares) – 16 square feet
• Residential (larger medical facilities, churches, schools, cemeteries) – 32 square feet
• Office – sign not to exceed 5 percent of the wall area
• Commercial and industrial – 10 percent of the wall area
• Mixed use – 5 percent of the wall area


The 15 sections of the new Sign Ordinance range from setting out what signs are permitted in specific districts, to the square footage area of signs and their heights in commercial and industrial zones, to the process for removing abandoned signs, to administration of sign regulations and establishing fees.

Here’s an index breaking down the 15 sections:

SECTION 1 – General provisions – the purpose, intent, applicability and scope of the ordinance.

SECTION 2 – A glossary of definitions used in the ordinance. For example: What’s a “nit,” a “footcandle,” or a “candela”? This section defines 17 phrases. Also, this section identifies 44 categories of sign types – everything from signs on poles or on walls to menu boards, moveable sidewalk signs or awning signs.

SECTION 3 – Prohibited signs, such as signs within public right-of-way or signs with flashing lights.

SECTION 4 – Signs exempt from regulation, such as utility signs, special-event signs or traffic-control measures.

SECTION 5 – Signs exempt from permit requirements, such as temporary signs announcing construction work or real estate open houses.

SECTION 6 – Criteria for measuring signs’ area and height.

SECTION 7 – General sign standards and requirements – minimum setbacks, for example, or standards for illumination.

SECTION 8 – Standards for specific sign types.

SECTION 9 – Master sign plans for unified developments – shopping centers, office parks and large-scale commercial or mixed-use developments.

SECTION 10 – Signs permitted in all districts.

SECTION 11 – Signs permitted in specific districts – includes new maximum allowable heights and sizes for signs in commercial and industrial zone districts.

SECTION 12 – Sign construction and maintenance.

SECTION 13 – Abandoned signs – defining abandonment and detailing the process for removing abandoned signs.

SECTION 14 – Legal non-conforming signs.

SECTION 15 – Administration – permit requirements, authority for enforcement of sign regulations, and setting sign construction permit fees ($80 per $1,000 of sign construction value).