ABU DHABI // In two years, the shop-lined streets of the emirate could have a completely different look.
New commercial signage regulations that went into effect earlier this month will force nearly all Abu Dhabi businesses to change their shop and business signs, at what owners expect will be a high cost.
The size and type of signs will be regulated, as well as their position on buildings.
The most common type of sign in the capital - a lighted box with a large piece of flexible vinyl stretched over it, called a flexible-face sign - will no longer be allowed.
There will be five types of signs permitted, and all must be in the regulators' terminology, either two- or three-dimensional (2D or 3D).
"The reasons for this is to remove visual clutter, ensure consistency in a building and project a positive image," said Val Zillig, a planning manager at the Urban Planning Council (UPC), which developed the guidelines in collaboration with the Department of Economic Development (DED).
"It's really, really easy for people to use these regulations."
Signs will no longer be allowed to cover any integral architectural element of a structure or protrude more than 25 centimetres from a building.
Ground-level businesses cannot have signs taller than one metre, and sign location, height and position must be consistent with other signage on the same structure.
Signs for ground-floor businesses must be placed on a building's fascia zone - the wide, flat surface above a door - if its height is equal to or greater than 80cm.
If the fascia area is too small, a sign can be placed on the parapet zone, or the wall above the business's glass frontage.
Signs on the parapet must be 3D and mounted directly on to the building or surface. The signage will not be allowed to exceed the width of the store fascia or height of the parapet.
"This is not just an aesthetic issue," Mr Zillig said. "This is a safety issue. We want to ensure that people can see inside buildings and that there are no illegal subdivisions." Large signs have been known to cover up illegal rooms.
Signage on a mezzanine floor is only allowed for retail businesses. The regulations call for perpendicular banners no more than two metres tall for mezzanine levels, and no more than two banners per business are allowed. Neon signs will be permitted for all levels.
The only signs that will be allowed on the top of a building are those for anchor businesses or hotels. They must be 3D and without a background. Compliance with the regulations will be linked to commercial licence renewals.
Businesses have one year from the date of their renewal to ensure their signage is in line with the law.
Several business owners said they were concerned about the cost of a new sign.
Abdullah Shamsizadh, the owner of Sportline Garments and Equipment in the Tourist Club, said he expected to pay at least Dh5,000 to replace his sign. "This is very expensive," Mr Shamsizadh said. "Why should we have to change?"
At Ceylo Copy Centre and Stationery on Airport Road, staff had already been warned about the new rules.
Inspectors told the owner, Anthony Fernandez, to move stock that was blocking his front windows and to find a new place for a protruding air conditioner. Mr Fernandez said he will pay approximately Dh2,000 for a new sign.
"This will definitely be a pinch to me," he said. "But if you have to do it, you have to do it, because that is the law."
Mr Zillig said the UPC and DED created the regulations with the businesses' best interest in mind.
"This policy was created in a way that we didn't want to create a burden on business owners, while still improving the city," he said. Exceptions will be made for historical signs and some artistic signs.
"In theory, two years from February 1, the entire city should have a radically more attractive retail appearance," Mr Zillig said.
The regulations also address signs for villa businesses and malls.
What will be allowed?
Ÿ 2D stencil cut: Letters cut into a background or applied on to a background
Ÿ 3D letters mounted on a background
Ÿ 3D letters mounted directly on to the building or surface
Ÿ 3D internally lit letters
Ÿ Banners displayed perpendicular to building