With businesses and several city leaders pushing a total overhaul of Raleigh’s sign rules, the topic will likely get debated for months to come.
Last Thursday, city councilmen John Odom and Bonner Gaylord rallied a packed forum of small business owners for a sweeping rewrite to Raleigh’s sign rules – a big contrast to the additional restrictions proposed earlier this year.
The councilmen say the proposed new regulations offer a rare chance to rethink Raleigh’s entire ordinance, which they think is too strict. They encouraged business owners to come to Tuesday’s city council meeting to make their case.
“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.”
City Councilman Thomas Crowder, however, doesn’t think Raleigh should throw out all its rules. “Our sign ordinance has served us extremely well ... to improve the quality of life in the city,” he said. “It’s that quality of life, along with design, that has made Raleigh such a desirable place for people to move to.”
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.
Last week, planning commissioners suggested the city form a 10-member committee of business owners and neighborhood leaders to study the proposed rules. “I think we can find a common sense approach to what should be allowed and what shouldn’t be allowed,” Crowder said, adding that he favors the new rules but wants to make sure they’re not “too draconian.”
But 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: way-finding 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.
And Gaylord said Raleigh’s best signs were installed before the city’s rules were tightened years ago: the Krispy Kreme sign on Person Street, Char-Grill and the rooftop tractor on Hillsborough Street.
Window signs aren’t the only ones under fire with the proposed changes. City leaders could also ban businesses from putting signs on vehicles in their parking lots. That doesn’t sit well with Seaboard Ace Hardware owner Bob King, who draws attention to his shop with a bright red classic car bearing his logo.
“It just would be so onerous, and for what end?” he said.