Facing tougher restrictions, businesses push Raleigh to rewrite sign rules

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMarch 27, 2014 

— Backed by two city councilmen, a packed forum of small business owners rallied Thursday for a sweeping rewrite to Raleigh’s sign rules – a big contrast to the additional restrictions now under consideration.

Councilmen John Odom and Bonner Gaylord told the business owners that the proposed new regulations offer a rare chance to rethink Raleigh’s entire ordinance, which they think is too strict.

“Essentially we’re regulating against our small local businesses with these continued restrictions,” Gaylord said.

Louie Bowen, the outspoken owner of Hughie and Louie’s costume shop, has been making that argument to city leaders for years. “I think we should use every window in our buildings” to advertise, she said, sporting a queen’s crown and scepter at Thursday’s meeting. “If we can’t advertise how we need to, then we can’t trickle up ... and small businesses are gone.”

But earlier this week, the planning commission took up a proposal that would force up to a quarter of Raleigh storefronts to take down signs. The push for stricter rules followed complaints about a flashy electronic sign at Glenwood South, but the current proposal would limit traditional unlit signs too.

On Tuesday, planning commissioners suggested the city form a 10-member committee of business owners and neighborhood leaders to study the proposed rules.

Business leaders at the Thursday forum said the proposal should be thrown out immediately. Andrew Stewart of Empire Properties, which owns many downtown storefronts, called it “completely misguided.” Window signs, he said, are necessary because Raleigh severely limits outdoor signs.

“What we fall back on is the inside of the glass,” he said. “There’s a lot of arbitrariness in the sign ordinance.”

Odom pointed to several examples: wayfinding sign efforts at Crabtree Valley Mall and WakeMed hospital that were rejected by city sign rules. “That’s how ridiculous this has been over the years,” he said.

Councilman Thomas Crowder has voiced support for additional restrictions, saying they could make Raleigh more attractive and make it easier for law enforcement to see inside businesses. He did not attend Thursday’s meeting and could not be reached.

The business owners plan to make their case at the next city council meeting Tuesday afternoon.

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

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