Signs of the Times

When a Pennsylvania car dealer clashed with his township zoning board over his use of portable searchlights, he found that the law was not on his side.

The car dealer wanted to use portable searchlights to “call attention generally to the business locations” and occasionally to highlight promotional events. The local zoning board banned the use of the lights, finding that they were “rotating or oscillating” signs that were specifically forbidden by the local ordinances. Because the very nature of the searchlights was to direct a very powerful beam of light off-site, the zoning board found that the searchlight was not the same as a floodlight or spotlight.

On appeal, the board’s decision prevailed. The Pennsylvania appellate court noted that the very lights themselves and the trailer on which they were mounted were “devices” that were used to “convey attention,” thereby qualifying them as signs.

The regulation of signs is a matter of local zoning law. Many zoning ordinances also address the permitted uses of floodlighting and spotlighting. Before erecting signs or lighting, check your zoning ordinances.

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