Denver Zoning Use Permits – What’s the deal?

By Ryan Paul

Getting a sign permit in any city can be difficult, but in our capital City of Denver the process is causing business owners to cry out for help. When starting a new business, the permitting

process for all aspects of the building can be arduous, but signs are pretty straight forward right? What about existing business owners that have been in the same location for years? It’s not as easy as it may seem when it comes to what’s called a “Zoning Use Permit”.

The Denver Zoning Code regulates land use and differentiates between a primary use, accessory use, and temporary use with this “Zoning Use Permit” (UP-01). The City of Denver is using sign companies to police whether businesses have this permit or not. It’s causing major delays for excited new business owners, or existing owners that are re-branding or even just upgrading a sign. Planning for a new sign project can take a little time. There are a few steps involved like budgeting, picking a type of sign that abides by city code, making sure it flows with the building you’re in aesthetically, landlord approval, amongst others. After all that is decided, you feel accomplished! You apply for your sign permit knowing it follows all the rules it needs to, only to find out that the building you occupy doesn’t have a use permit on file with City.

Well OK, so I get a use permit, I know what my building is used for. No big deal, right? Not so fast! The application requires a bevy of information which in some cases is tedious and requires a handful of research for business owners.

No blame there if reading that gave you a slight headache. There is a lot of “what the heck is that?”, and understandably so. But I’m just looking for a sign…. not to change uses, why do I need to file for this permit? This is a question we’d like answers to. Oddly enough, other permits can be approved by the city without the stop-check of a use permit like plumbing and electrical. Which raises the question of; why signs? We’re not really sure.

For new construction, the use permit is a little easier to handle. You’re already dealing with most of the required information in the form of construction plans, sale documents, etc. You’re also filing the use of the building for the first time. In the case of older buildings, the information gets much harder to procure. How do I find building plans for a building built in the 60’s or 70’s? What if the information required is unavailable? Having an architect and/or a graphic designer draw up all of the required info can be pricey and time consuming.

Let’s say you have everything put together. All the boxes are checked. Now you really feel accomplished but frustrated at the same time. You submit the completed application to the zoning review email as instructed. Now what? A zoning use permit typically takes 6-8 weeks to be approved, and maybe more if the application needs to be revised or more information is needed. Any changes usually send it back to the bottom of the pile. That’s not counting the time it takes for the actual sign permit to be approved after the building department confirms a use permit is on file. Wait… I’m supposed to open my business in a month, I need a sign ASAP!

This is the issue a lot of business owners are facing, and it makes it hard to attract new customers that don’t know what you are or can’t find your location. Here at Signarama we want to do everything we can to assist business owners and educate them on this process. As members of the Colorado Sign Association, this is an issue we are currently discussing and trying to bring the attention of The City of Denver on behalf our customers. We want you to be able to focus on your business!

Please reach out to me at if you have any questions on this process or need assistance. I am happy to help!