Controversial Glenwood Avenue sign prompts city to rewrite rules

ccampbell@newsobserver.comOctober 31, 2013 

An electronic sign in the window of ERA Strother's real estate office, at the corner of Peace Street and Glenwood Avenue in Raleigh has caused some controversy in the neighborhood.

JOHN HANSEN — jhansen@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— City leaders are considering a rewrite to Raleigh’s sign ordinance after receiving dozens of complaints about an electronic window sign downtown.

About 80 people have signed a petition asking real-estate agent Doro Taylor to take down electronic signs at her office at the corner of Glenwood Avenue and Peace Street. Opponents of the signs – which fill the entire window with a changeable LED screen – say they’re unsightly and distracting to drivers at a busy intersection.

“It’s like Hong Kong,” one person wrote on the petition. “The signs are tacky and distracting. What kind of customer are you trying to attract? ... It’s an embarrassment.”

After meeting with neighbors, Taylor agreed to take down one of two signs, but she says the technology was too expensive to get rid of both. Now residents of the Glenwood-Brooklyn neighborhood are asking the Raleigh City Council to intervene and change sign rules, which currently allow Taylor’s signs.

Taylor says her signs are no different from other TVs and electronic displays in storefronts along Glenwood South. She says she’s been unfairly targeted by neighbors online, and few of them have approached her directly with their concerns.

“It’s just been the biggest nightmare,” she said. “I’ve lost sleep. ... They’ve been ruthless and unkind.”

To address the complaints, City Attorney Tom McCormick proposed tweaking the sign rules to explicitly cover signage inside storefront windows. But Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said she was concerned about “unintended consequences” that could limit window signs throughout the city.

“Somebody may have a long-established sign in their place of business that might not be allowed, and we don’t know that,” she said.

And Councilman Randy Stagner said he’s not sure a rule change is the best way to handle complaints. “I would like to solve the problem more so than to rewrite the ordinance,” he said.

Taylor says council members are trying to find rules that would only apply to her office. “They’re trying to rewrite the law for me,” she said. “How crazy is that?”

The attack on Taylor’s signs – which she bought this summer to advertise homes she’s selling – is costing her CityGate Real Estate business. She says she paid $70,000 for each sign after assurances from city zoning staff that the advertising would be legal. After taking one down, she sold it for $20,000 and has spent $12,000 on attorney’s fees.

“It’s costing me a two-year salary to deal with this,” she said.

Steve Gurganus, a neighborhood leader who opposes the signs, said he’d rather the city regulate LED signs specifically. “LED and similar technology has changed the playing field with regard to interior sign options,” he said.

Other neighbors worry that leaving Taylor’s signs unchecked could lead to similar flashy window displays elsewhere. Neil Riemann, president of the Cameron Park Neighborhood Association, said the signs are “distracting, dangerous to building occupants and passersby alike, and aesthetically offensive. ... We are concerned that left unchecked, they will proliferate to other establishments.”

The council committee members postponed a vote on potential new sign rules, saying they wanted more information about how the change could affect businesses throughout Raleigh.

“I don’t want to write an ordinance that’s going to cost small businesses a lot of money,” Councilman John Odom said.

As for Taylor, she expects her costs to mount, but she’s not giving up the fight. Last week, she took real-estate ads off the controversial sign and replaced it with a quote: “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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