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New or updated sign? Are banners and a-frames allowed?

How Signage Works in Old Town Albuquerque

What is your business allowed as far as signage goes? Here is a detailed rundown of how signage works in Old Town.


The City of Albuquerque has a division called the Landmarks Commission which provides guidance for development in historic districts and on sites and structures that have been designated as City landmarks.

Old Town Albuquerque is considered a protected area and is covered by a Historic Protection Overlay Zone (HPO). The Old Town HPO boundaries should be easy to remember as it matches the new Historic Old Town Association boundaries
In 2017 the City passed into law a massive plan called the Integrated Development Ordinance which through its 650+ pages lays out specifically what is and is not allowed: from signage, stucco colors, building height, fences, etc. It is a very difficult document to decipher through to find the pages pertaining to just Old Town signage. Which is the purpose of this email, to make it a little bit easier for you.

The Balance Between Business & Historical Preservation 

Signs are essential for the basic success of a business, but the wrong signage can completely undermine the historic nature of the Old Town Historic area. These two sides may sometimes be at odds, but the city currently has a healthy balance for what is allowed for the success of businesses while protecting the historic look and feel of Old Town.

With that said, the process for getting a sign approved (that requires committee approval from the city) can be VERY difficult, onerous, and flat-out time-consuming. That is the current state of signage in Old Town. The Historic Old Town Association has a goal to work with the city to simplify the process and make it less onerous. Until then, we still have to comply with the ordinances as they are written.
The ultimate GOAL of all the processes, forms, ordinances, etc. is to protect areas of historical, architectural and cultural significance. To ensure that projects in historic zones are compatible with the traditional & historic neighborhood character. With Old Town Albuquerque being of utmost importance and worthy location of historical preservation in the City of Albuquerque.

First, You Need Permission

Before we go over the details of signage in Old Town, it is important to note that all signage requires approval from the city.

You need a Certificate of Appropriateness for all new or updated business signs. Here is a document put together from the city that helps with “How to Obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness“. To be honest, its not accurate, its out dated, and does not give you the forms you need. It is still helpful to get started so still reference it.
  1. Design: Figure out what your sign will look like. Have a digital drawing of the sign and a mockup of the sign in its place.
  2. Fill Out Form L: The Historic Preservation and Landmarks Commission requires you to fill out and submit this form. You can download Form L here. Frankly this form is confusing to fill out as well. See the completed sample application below to see what we ere successful with.
  3. Submit to Landmarks Commission: Submit completed designs and Form L to [email protected]
Contact information directly for the Landmarks Commission:
[email protected] or call 505-924-3927

Signage in Old Town
What’s allowed & what’s prohibited

We extracted 6 pages from the IDO that apply specifically to signage in Old Town, view the pdf here.

What is NOT allowed – Prohibited Signs

  • Internally lit signs.
  • Signs that flash or blink or signs with visible bulbs, neon tubing, luminous paint, or plastics (with the exception of vinyl lettering), except for neon signs allowed pursuant to Subsection 14-16-3-5(K)(3)(c)4.b below.
  • Signs with wind-activated parts or signs that rotate or move in any manner.
  • Signs or any part of any sign that changes its message or picture.
  • Signs displayed on railings.
  • Streamers.

Allowed Signage in Old Town

  • Only 2 signs per establishment (widow signs do not count towards this #)
  • Establishments that face 2 or more streets are allowed 1 additional sign.
  • The LC may approve 1 additional sign per establishment where the LC determines that there is not reasonable visibility of the establishment from the public right-of-way or adjacent property without such an additional sign. (This is the language regarding the A-Frame signs that we see around Old Town. Are they allowed? Only by special exception and requires approval from the LC.)
  • … there are additional exceptions that are more rare. Please see the pdf link above to download the exact ordinance detail.

After a successful sign application

You will be required to notify a list of people via email (the list will be given to you after LC approval) where you will send the approved signage plans. Then you will be required to hang a “Certificate of Appropriateness” pink sign for 15 days, which is giving public notice as to the application. 

This is a very public and conspicuous sign you will be given to temporarily display. This also means that it is obvious which businesses went through the process and which ones have not.

Sample “New Sign” Application

Here is an example of a successful new business sign application. Download the successfully completed sign application zip file.

The application has 7 documents:
  1. Development review application: Provided by LC staff, completed by the applicant
  2. Form L: Completed by the applicant
  3. Official Public Notice form: provided by LC staff
  4. Digital Sign File: Sign file with dimensions.
  5. Digital Mockup of Sign: Mockup of the sign in its proposed location.
  6. Sign Posting Agreement: Provided by LC
  7. Zoning Map: Map of the location and zoning of proposed sign. Provided by LC.

Final Thoughts

Yes, this process with the City can be confusing and burdensome. But it is these very ordinances that preserves Old Town looking like Old Town and makes it so unique, which is the very reason why businesses want to be here.

If you need help reach out to the planning contacts above. In our experience, they have been very helpful walking people through the process.
As always, we have a wealth of knowledge within our community. If you need help, just reply and we can point you in the right direction.