Midtown Raleigh News

News Briefs

Raleigh eases limits on advertising signs

The city’s outdoor signage rules, unchanged for nearly 20 years, have been updated to give merchants more freedom to promote special events and seasonal sales.

The changes, approved last week by the City Council, were drawn up by a citizens group that included small-business owners and neighborhood activists.

Businesses can now put up banners and temporary signs four times each year, double the current number. This includes one 20-day event and three weekend events per year. Merchants can also display sandwich board-style signs year-round, as long as they are limited to 6 square feet in area and 5 feet in height. The signs must be located next to the main door.

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 said the city’s rules are too strict, especially for businesses trying to endure the slow economy.

The new rules take effect Dec. 18.

Staff writer Matt Garfield

Warehouse proposal draws scrutiny

The City Council remains interested in a developer’s pitch to turn the vacant Stone’s Warehouse building into a live-work complex for artists. But council members Tuesday raised several questions and concerns with the terms of the deal.

After a lengthy debate, the council voted 6-2 to authorize city staffers to continue working on a lease agreement. The next discussion is Jan. 15.

Vann Joines and The Landmark Group propose leasing the property from the city for 99 years for $1. In exchange, they would transform the city-owned block into 61 apartments, each with studios geared toward low- to middle-income artists and entrepreneurs.

“I’m really concerned about just giving it away for $1,” said Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin. “I’m trying really hard to see the upside on this. And I’m not getting there.”

A new round of competition should be held to let developers vie for the project, said Councilman Thomas Crowder, who voted with Randy Stagner to halt discussions on the current proposal.

“This is not fair and transparent, and I don’t see how the council can support this,” Crowder said of the proposed lease deal.

The complex would be marketed to artists but open to anyone who qualifies based on income.

“We have a cock-eyed optimism that we’re going to not have folks who just need affordable housing,” Stagner said. “We don’t know, at this point, if the concept will work.”

Mayor Nancy McFarlane said the city should be flexible. “Our regular process has produced a blighted, empty shell and it’s been sitting there for 30 years. Sometimes opportunities present themselves and you need to consider them.”

Staff writer Matt Garfield

City settles on plan for greenway

The city will move forward with a $2.9 million plan for the Honeycutt Creek Greenway, a 5.6-mile trail that will provide access to the Annie Louise Wilkerson MD Nature Preserve in North Raleigh.

The decision came after four months of discussion centered on whether it makes sense to leave part of the trail unpaved.

The trail will transition to an unpaved natural surface at the intersection of Honeycutt and Durant roads. The unpaved stretch will connect to the 60-mile South Shore Trail, which is also unpaved. The cost for the unpaved portion is $219,160.

Councilman Randy Stagner expressed skepticism that walkers and cyclists would use the unpaved portion. He said the money for that stretch could be better spent on other greenway needs.

Construction of the trail, which will begin in January and take about a year, will be funded by park bonds approved by voters in 2003 and 2007. The trail begins at Strickland Road, passes under Interstate 540, crosses Durant Road and ends near Falls Lake.

Staff writer Matt Garfield

Lightner to retire from MLK committee

Bruce Lightner, a Southeast Raleigh community activist and son of the city’s first and only African-American mayor, will retire next year as lead organizer of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. holiday events. His official retirement is Jan. 30.

Lightner founded the Raleigh MLK Committee in 1981 and has overseen programs for 33 years to commemorate the slain civil rights leader. Lightner has also organized an annual bus trip known as the Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Heritage Tour. More than 1,200 people have traveled to historic sites across the South as part of the tour.

Lawrence Wray, former assistant city manager, is leading a search committee to find a successor to Lightner.

Staff writer Matt Garfield