What you need to know before you put up a sign (Ag Law)
(Editor’s note: Nicole Cook is an environmental and agricultural faculty legal specialist with the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. This column should not be interpreted as legal or financial advice for the reader.)
Attracting people to your farm stand, you-pick operation or corn maze requires advertising, including signs along the road directing people to your farm.
Before you invest in signs, though, make sure you know the laws that control things like where signs may be placed, what types of signs may be posted there, how many signs you may have at one spot, how big or small the signs may be, and whether the signs may be lit or may have lights.
Violations of federal, state or municipal laws governing signs can not only result in having to remove or relocate the signs, but could also expose you to fines, and posting signs on someone else’s private property without permission could land you in a lawsuit.
Federal laws banning most types of roadside signs on federal highways stem from the 1965 federal Highway Beautification Act. “[T]o promote the safety and recreational value of public travel, and to preserve natural beauty,” the HBA places controls on the posting and maintenance of outdoor advertising signs, displays and devices in public right-of-ways along the federal interstate system.
It also requires states to develop their own standards for certain signs and to remove illegal signs, or face a reduction in their annual allotment of federal highway funds.
Contact the Federal Highway Administration if you have questions about erecting a sign along an interstate.
States also have laws controlling signs along state highways.
For example, in Maryland, signs are not permitted in the medians or within state highway right-of-ways, and Maryland state law allows Maryland’s State Highway Administration and local governments to recover the cost of removing illegal signs from highways.
If your farm is located along a Maryland State highway, however, you may place an “on-premise outdoor advertising” sign on your property without a permit so long as (1) the sign only advertises activities, services, or products available on the property where the sign is located, (2) the sign is placed within 100 feet of the business activity (like the farm stand or the U-Pick field), and (3) the sign does not encroach or impact a State right of way.
If you want to advertise products that are sold or offered at a different property, you can get a permit from SHA for an off-premise outdoor advertising sign, but the sign still must meet size, lighting, zoning and spacing requirements and it must also conform to local regulations.
SHA has programs in place to help businesses comply with Federal and State law.
To learn more about outdoor advertising regulations and programs in Maryland, visit www.roads.maryland.gov and click on Business Center.
In addition, SHA’s Office of Traffic & Safety, in conjunction with the Maryland Department of Agriculture and Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, developed an application for the fabrication, installation and maintenance of ag-tourism highway signs along Maryland state-maintained roadways. You can apply by going to the MDA’s website at mda.maryland.gov and clicking on Maryland products.
The link to the Ag-Tourism Signing Program Guidelines & Application appears on the right side of the page.
Cities and counties also have their own laws to deal with aesthetic and safety issues, often through zoning codes.
Municipal sign regulations for private property, including land close to roads, provide details for size, height, lighting, design and placement.
I suggest starting with your local zoning board or land use committee and then working your way up through the state and federal agencies.
The questions you want to ask are:
• Is there a limit on where signs can be placed?
• Is there a limit of the number of signs?
• Is there a limit on how big the sign can be, or is there a minimum size requirement?
• Is there a requirement for the type of signs that can be used at that spot or for lighting the sign?
In addition, farms with easements on their land should also check the terms of the easement for any limitations on posting signs on the land that is burdened with the easement.
For farmland subject to a Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation easement, Maryland’s General Assembly passed a bill that specifically allows MALPF easement landowners to erect signs no larger than 4 feet by 4 feet advertising the farm and the sale of the farm’s agricultural products without seeking approval of the MALPF Board.
Contact the Maryland Department of Agriculture to learn more about this new opportunity for MALPF easement landowners to promote their farms and their farm products.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925