The billboard industry is highly regulated in New Jersey and in other states. Consequently, potential sign locations are scarce due to a number of limitations – such as spacing between signs, zoning and the like – built into the regulations. However, if a location is identified on a well-traveled highway, a sign location can be extremely profitable. This article addresses the steps required in order to obtain a permit for a new sign along a limited access highway in New Jersey. Additional measures are required when a proposed location intended to show to a limited access highway will be installed on public property.

As an initial matter, an applicant for an outdoor advertising sign permit must be licensed to do business by the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s Office of Outdoor Advertising (OOAS) as an outdoor advertising (OA) company. When engaged in the business of outdoor advertising, an individual or other legal entity cannot hold off-premise sign permits (with limited exceptions) unless licensed as an outdoor advertising company. Accordingly, the first step for an applicant is to obtain a license to engage in outdoor advertising in New Jersey. In order to maintain the license, once issued, an annual renewal fee must be paid.  

To apply for a sign permit, the OA company needs to apply on a form prescribed by OOAS. The application fee is $200. The property owner or owner’s agent must sign the application before it is submitted. The information requested on the form is straightforward, but here are a few suggestions with respect to some of the items:

  1. Under “Dimensions of Sign Face, Height of Sign Supports,” the HAGL is inserted.
  2. “Location of Sign” should be descriptive of the location (e.g., “S/S of I-95, 100 feet west of Public Service utility pole 123456”). Reference must be made to a fixed point – utility pole with identifying number, distance from an intersection, bridge or “other permanent point of reference.” OOAS does not regulate the setback from the highway so that measurement is neither binding nor necessary.
  3. Under “Advertisement to be Displayed,” a general description such as “general advertising” will suffice.
  4. Note on the first page the section for the property owner’s signature. It is best to match the signature to the record owner’s name.
  5. Sketch of Location. This is well explained. However, note that a signed and sealed scaled drawing prepared by a NJ licensed surveyor will need to be submitted at a later date.
  6. The application fee as noted is $200.
  7. The application is submitted to the NJ Department of Transportation, Office of Outdoor Advertising Services, via mail at P.O. Box 600, Trenton, NJ 08625-0600 or can be delivered to NJDOT, OOAS, 1035 Parkway Avenue, Ewing, NJ 08618- 2309. For Federal Express, the phone number to insert is 609.530.3337.  

As an intermediate step, OOAS will issue a notice that serves as a preliminary determination. If favorable, it will instruct the applicant to submit a scaled drawing prepared by a licensed surveyor within 45 days. The drawing must include the following:

  1. The county, municipality, block and lot of the property on which the proposed sign is to be erected;
  2. The name of the property owner;
  3. The distance from the proposed sign to the permanent point of reference the applicant has specified in the initial application discussed above as measured along the nearest edge of the pavement;
  4. The distance the sign will be from the right-of-way line;
  5. The route numbers and name of all highways shown on the drawing;
  6. An arrow indicating north; and
  7. The scale of the drawing.  

If an applicant wishes to expedite the application’s processing, a drawing completed by a licensed surveyor can be submitted as part of the first submission of the application. However, an applicant can submit the surveyor’s drawing after the NJ DOT conditionally approves an application. In that case, the location shown on the drawing must be identical to the location shown on the initial application or the permit will not be issued. Also, if the surveyor’s drawing is not submitted within 45 days, the application will be denied and a re-submittal necessary. However, if these procedures are properly followed, OOAS will issue a conditional permit for the sign location subject to proof that all municipal approvals have been obtained.

As noted, “all relevant necessary approvals” must be obtained in accordance with the municipality’s ordinances. Satisfactory evidence of municipal approvals is a building permit or a land use board resolution of approval. However, there is one final requirement that is called into play when the proposed sign location will be on public property. In that situation, the applicant must appear before the local planning board or zoning board of adjustment at a public hearing the purpose of which is to afford the public the opportunity to comment after notice is duly given. In limited circumstances, there is an exception to this last requirement. OOAS will accept a statement from an authorized municipal official that the municipal ordinances do not require a public hearing or a local approval for the billboard location proposed in the application.  

In summary, an applicant needs to pursue the following steps in this order:

  1. Apply to OOAS for a conditional permit on the form attached;
  2. Once OOAS notifies the applicant that the location is approved, commission a licensed surveyor to prepare the appropriate scaled drawing;
  3. Submit the scaled drawing within 45 days of the date of approval spelled out in #2 above; and
  4. Obtain and submit either municipal planning board approval (if required) and a building permit or a letter from an authorized municipal official indicating that such approval is not necessary.