Electronic real-estate sign can stay, but rules could still change

ccampbell@newsobserver.comNovember 18, 2013 

— Real estate agent Doro Taylor will likely get to keep her controversial electronic sign on Glenwood Avenue, but the City Council is still looking at new sign rules to make sure there’s not one on every corner.

A council committee last week recommended a January public hearing on the rule change, which would make outdoor sign restrictions apply to those positioned inside store windows. That’s the set-up of Taylor’s sign, which takes up most of a storefront window in the ERA Strother office at Glenwood and Peace Street.

Neighbors say the signs are tacky and a safety hazard that distracts drivers at the busy intersection. They say the rule change is needed to make sure other business owners don’t follow Taylor’s lead.

“It’s really a question of what we want our downtown to be,” said Phil Poe, who lives in the neighborhood. “We can be Las Vegas, or we can be something that’s a bit more classy.”

If the City Council approves the new sign rules – and Councilman John Odom has already voiced his opposition – existing signs would be grandfathered in for the next five and a half years.

With that provision, Taylor could keep her sign, and she expects the technology will become obsolete well before her exemption runs out.

“I don’t want to punish somebody who followed all the regulations and rules and then turn around and say, ‘We changed our mind,’” Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said.

But Baldwin said she’s concerned other businesses interested in flashy signage might try to get one before a ban begins. Taylor says she doubts anyone would take the risk after hearing of her costly battle with sign opponents.

“I would not have done this if I had known that the situation was going to be like this,” she said.

The new restrictions, however, will likely go well beyond banning the full-window LED signs that angered neighbors of the real estate office. Raleigh restricts signage based on the percentage of the window it covers. So the city may be limiting unlit ads as well.

The City Council wants more information on how many businesses could be affected by the change. An initial review of the Glenwood South area found 51 of 75 businesses had window signs, seven of which were bigger than what city rules allow.

“We don’t really understand the impacts throughout the city,” Baldwin said.

In addition to recommending the hearing, the council committee asked city planners to study the impact on business, and it asked the Downtown Raleigh Alliance to seek feedback from merchants.

“I’m hoping this will encourage a healthy public discussion,” Baldwin said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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