Midtown Raleigh News

June 29, 2014

Raleigh looks to ban vehicle signs

Raleigh leaders will take up a proposal Tuesday to ban parked vehicles used to advertise businesses.

City leaders will take up a proposal Tuesday to ban parked vehicles used to advertise businesses.

The measure aims to close what some see as a loophole in Raleigh’s sign restrictions. To improve their visibility at tucked-away storefronts, some businesses park cars, vans or trucks emblazoned with their logos next to a busy street.

“This tends to litter some of our thoroughfares visually in a way,” said Erin Sterling Lewis of the planning commission, which voted unanimously to recommend the ban last week.

The new rule would force business owners to park the vehicles behind their buildings if parking is available there, according to city planner Eric Hodge. If that’s not an option, he said, the vehicle “must be located as close to the primary entrance to the building as the site allows,” and it can’t be within 100 feet of the street.

“It’s really geared for those vehicles that are just sitting there to be attention-grabbing signs,” Hodge said.

Among the vehicles affected is the bright orange classic car that advertises Seaboard Ace Hardware. Because Seaboard Station has no sign along Peace Street listing its shops, the hardware store is only visible to those who venture to the back of the shopping center.

Owner Bob King said that parking the car near Peace Street during special events helps customers find his business. But it’s not just a billboard – the car is used to make deliveries. “It is a major part of the way we do business,” he said, adding that he’s concerned about any rules that would restrict where the car parks. “It would hurt us ... A lot of us small merchants, our vehicle is one of our main ways of advertising.”

Jennifer Martin, director of Shop Local Raleigh, said she’s bringing a group of business owners to Tuesday’s council meeting to weigh in on the new rules. She says the proposal would hit small business the hardest because the rule doesn’t affect companies with large fleets of logo-clad vehicles.

“We are going to see a lot of businesses impacted by this,” she said. “Now we’re telling a business how they can and can’t decorate it. ... We don’t restrict others from what they put on their cars.”

The city council is expected to set an Aug. 5 public hearing and vote on the vehicle sign rules. Meanwhile, a council-appointed committee began reviewing proposed window sign restrictions on Thursday. Hodge said that proposal has proved “more controversial” than vehicle rules and will get a longer vetting.

Signs inside windows aren’t currently regulated, and the change would restrict the percentage of window space covered by signs.

Committee member Brian O’Haver suggested the group focus on where and how much window signage should be allowed and how to define the term. The city’s current definition appears to treat merchandise near windows as a sign – something that worries Pam Blondin, owner of Deco Raleigh.

“I have merchandise right up against the window,” Blondin said. “I’m willing to tear down the North Carolina Theatre sign, but the other stuff is where my anxiety lies.”

The committee also wondered whether to treat light-up signs differently from window posters. “It seems like the illumination has been more of the issue,” said Andy Martin, pointing to the brightly lit LED sign on Glenwood South that sparked the push for tougher sign rules.

The group didn’t reach any recommendations Thursday; they’ll have several more meetings before making a report to the city council in August or September.

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