Midtown Raleigh News

July 13, 2014

Committee seeks ‘meaningful compromise’ on controversial Raleigh sign rules

The majority of the Raleigh’s appointed sign committee favors regulating what’s inside storefront windows, based on an informal poll during the group’s meeting Thursday.

The majority of the city’s appointed sign committee favors regulating what’s inside storefront windows, based on an informal poll during the group’s meeting Thursday.

The 11-member panel of business and neighborhood leaders is reviewing a controversial proposal to limit the percentage of storefront windows that can be covered with signs. The group’s meetings will also tackle rules for vehicle signs and concerns that Raleigh’s current regulations are already too strict.

While many businesses and the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association oppose any limits to signs inside windows, most committee members said some rules are needed to improve the city’s appearance.

“I hope we can reach some kind of meaningful compromise where we can make some changes (to the proposal) that help business, but I don’t think we should throw the whole thing out,” said Neil Riemann, a committee member who leads the Cameron Park Neighborhood Association.

But any recommended regulation is likely to rile business owners. Richard Gardner, who owns ComedyWorx Comedy Club and attended Thursday’s meeting, said the goal shouldn’t be curbing signage that committee members don’t like.

“We need a little tolerance if we want to protect freedom of speech, protect private property rights and have a vibrant business community,” he said. “Let businesses run their business. The window signage is not that big a deal in this community.”

Thursday’s meeting highlighted the city’s geographic divide when it comes to sign concerns. Opponents of the window sign rules brought photos of downtown storefronts that would violate the regulation: the Deco Raleigh boutique, the Nüvonivo children’s clothing shop, even the Sitti Lebanese restaurant.

But neighborhood leaders from areas well outside downtown brought their own photos of signs they find objectionable. Leslie Bryant lives near the intersection of Western Boulevard and Jones Franklin Road. She passed around pictures of a 99-cent store, a check cashing business and a pool store there with neon lights and brightly colored vinyl window signs.

“The windows are completely covered,” Bryant said. “It’s getting out of control. This is our gateway to our community, and it needs to be cleaned up.”

The committee’s challenge over the coming weeks will be to find a solution for signs citywide. City planner Eric Hodge pointed out that the rules can’t “address tackiness” – which is why the initial proposal limits the size of signs.

But the group did agree Thursday on one aspect of the proposed regulations: a provision that would limit eye-level signs to 5 percent of the glass area that’s between four and seven feet tall. That could force businesses to use smaller fonts to identify their storefronts to passerby, and most committee members said it’s a bad idea.

“The 5 percent thing is ridiculous,” said committee member Andy Martin, a restaurant owner. “I think it’s an overreach, and it’s hard to calculate.”

The committee agreed to take a formal vote next week to reject the eye-level sign restriction.

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