Businesses could soon be required to limit window signs to cover less than half the storefront glass.
A divided sign task force voted 5-4 Thursday to recommend a 50-percent maximum for window sign coverage. The rule is less restrictive than the 30-percent limit initially proposed, but it’s still opposed by many business owners who worry fewer signs could hurt sales.
The Raleigh City Council will vote on the recommendation in August or September.
Task force members said they’re trying to balance the concerns of business owners with the aesthetic problems of unregulated signs. “I think to go from zero restrictions to 30 percent is severe,” developer Bill Mullins said.
But Richard Gardner, who owns ComedyWorx downtown, said that a simple percentage limitation doesn’t make sense.
"You’re not affecting Costco or Home Depot," he said. “You’re affecting the guy that’s just retired for GSK who’s going to open an ice cream store somewhere. That’s just unfair.”
Gardner said the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t make sense. “Someone can put up 20 percent (coverage window sign) that’s a piece of junk,” he said. “How does that consider the speed of the traffic going by, the distance of the window from the street? The whole process has been appalling.”
But four members task force members say a 50-percent limit doesn’t go far enough. Most of them said they’d support 40 percent, but Cameron Park Neighborhood Association president Neil Riemann said the city should stick to the original 30 percent proposal.
Riemann says he thinks most small businesses wouldn’t be affected because their window signs are minimal. “They’ll be the convenience stores, the drug stores and the groceries that fill up that part of their window with signs that say ‘we have eggs for 99 cents,’” he said.
Other task force members agreed to 50 percent as a compromise but stressed that they’d like an even less restrictive number. “You’ve got to allow business owners to be creative and do what’s right for their business,” said Andy Martin, a restaurant owner. “I would lean towards the higher number.”
On the same 5-4 split, the task force recommended a provision for businesses with a tiny window space. All businesses will be guaranteed 32 square feet of windows signs per facade, per floor. That would help places like downtown’s Architect Bar where the only streetfront glass is on a door.
Howard Dickerson of Capital Vacuum said that Thursday’s recommendation was an improvement. “It’s good that you’re bringing the percentage up, but it is going to limit what businesses can do,” he said. “There’s a lot of businesses that will be blindsided by this, that don’t even know it’s happening.”
Even with the window recommendations, the sign task force’s job isn’t done. They’ll tackle proposed restrictions on vehicle signs – cars and trucks used as advertising – at their meeting this Thursday, before considering complaints about the current sign ordinance.