Midtown Raleigh News

City panel takes up sign rules

Nearly 20 years after Snoopy’s Hot Dogs convinced the city to ease up its signage rules, Louie Bowen hopes to spur another round of changes.

And if a George Washington costume helps bring attention, that’s even better.

Bowen, dressed in a long coat that evoked the Revolutionary War period, watched last week as a citizens group began the tedious work of poring over the city’s temporary sign rules to consider ways to offer more leniency to businesses.

It was an odder scene than you’d typically find in Room 303 at City Hall. The outfits – a total of five people wore them – were courtesy of Bowen, owner of Hughie & Louie’s, a costume shop on Glenwood Avenue that has been feuding with the city over advertising and signage provisions.

Bowen sends her costume-clad children to wave at cars from the sidewalk outside her shop. Turns out that’s a no-no under City Code Section 10-2083, which allows for portable signs, banners, pennants and balloons only with a 30-day permit. Businesses are limited to two such permits for as long as they are in operation.

The limitations are too strict for City Councilman John Odom, a business owner who successfully pushed for a task force to study the rules. Odom owns a collection of Meineke car care centers.

The citizens panel includes neighborhood representatives, business people and George Chapman, the city’s former planning director.

One potential compromise has already been floated: Businesses could apply once per year for temporary sign permits. The fee for such permits would be $250, and the city would continue to limit the types and/or size and location of the signs.

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.

In 1993, Snoopy’s lobbied the city to tweak its enforcement policies. Now Bowen has taken up the cause, aided by a band of costumed patriots who carried signs with messages such as “Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.”

“All I’m asking is for everyone to get the same rules,” Bowen said. “You’re going to call a person visual clutter?”

Jennifer Martin, the representative from the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association, peppered city staffers with questions about how the rules are interpreted and enforced. Her group has argued two 30-day permits aren’t enough.

The panel will have up to three months to make a recommendation to the City Council. The next meeting will be at 1 p.m. Tuesday.