Midtown Raleigh News

Raleigh should ease signage rules, panel says

The city’s outdoor signage rules, unchanged for nearly 20 years, should be altered to give merchants more freedom to promote special events and seasonal sales, a citizens group says.

But changes recommended by the group don’t go far enough, says a local costume shop owner who pushed for the review.

Businesses would be allowed to put up temporary signs or banners once per year for up to 20 days, and also during as many as three weekends, under a list of suggestions from a panel appointed by the City Council.

Currently, merchants are limited to two such permits for as long as they are in operation.

However, the group suggests some boundaries. Signs or banners should be no more than 64 square feet – roughly the size of two sheets of plywood – with no more than five allowed per permit, the group recommended.

The 10-member panel studied the city’s signage regulations to consider ways to offer more leniency to businesses.

“I look at it as a compromise,” said Jennifer B. Martin, director of Shop Local Raleigh/Greater Raleigh Merchants Association and chairwoman of the panel.

“We’ll allow more times per year if you agree to signage restrictions.”

The City Council’s law and public safety committee endorsed the recommendations last week but asked the city attorney’s office to fine-tune the language. A vote by the full council is planned for June 19.

A regal objection

The review came in response to complaints from Louie Bowen, owner of Hughie & Louie’s, a costume shop on Glenwood Avenue that has been feuding with the city over advertising and signage.

Bowen came to City Hall last week dressed in a regal robe and crown, and also a fake black eye to symbolize her message. She said the city’s rules are too strict, especially for businesses trying to endure the slow economy.

“People need to see us,” she said. “We need more than two pieces of plywood.”

Temporary signage is a hot source of debate in many communities, particularly those concerned with aesthetics. Raleigh imposed limits on signage in the 1970s and ’80s to prevent the proliferation of giant billboards and pole signs.

The group came up with one more suggestion: Sandwich board-style signs ought to be allowed at any time, as long as businesses place them within 5 feet of main entrances.

Sensing the potential for confusion, panel members urged the city to produce a leaflet explaining the rules that would be distributed to businesses when permits are issued and renewed.