Raleigh businesses could be forced to remove window signs

ccampbell@newsobserver.comFebruary 24, 2014 

— City leaders are considering new business sign restrictions that could impact a quarter of the storefronts in Raleigh.

The push to further regulate signs stems from complaints about an electronic window sign at the ERA Strother real-estate office on Glenwood South. The bright, controversial sign is legal because the screen is located inside the office window; the proposal would expand the city’s restrictions to regulate indoor signs.

But the proposed changes would impact businesses with far more low-tech displays than the real-estate screen. At an initial public hearing last week, city planner Travis Crane presented an informal survey of 230 businesses throughout Raleigh. He found that on average, 24.1 percent would likely be in violation of the new rules.

On busy thoroughfares like New Bern Avenue and Capital Boulevard, up to half of the businesses could be forced to remove paper window signs designed to catch the eyes of passing drivers.

The Leather and Wood Furniture Gallery would likely be among the businesses affected. The planning department’s survey estimated that the Glenwood Avenue store has 60 square feet of signs inside its windows. Most identify furniture brands the business carries, though the shop occasionally has paper posters advertising a sale.

“It would hurt our business,” owner Michael Lashley said of the rule change, adding that he hadn’t been told about the proposal. “The signage on the inside of our windows does help the business of our store.”

Lashley said he’s already at a disadvantage with the city’s existing sign rules. Other furniture stores on the same block have standalone signs next to the street, but because his shop is newer, it had to follow stricter rules. Leather and Wood’s primary sign is on the building facade, and it often goes unnoticed by cars speeding by at 45 mph.

“We’ve already been penalized further than most businesses on this street,” he said.

The sign rules would rely on a percentage-based approach: two square feet of signs for each linear foot of wall space. In some cases, that would mean relatively small signs could be banned. Downtown’s Architect Bar is on the planning department’s list of potential violators, but only because its only streetfront window is on the door leading to the second-floor lounge. A sign inside that door lists the bar’s name and hours.

If the Raleigh City Council approves the new rules, businesses like Leather and Wood would have three months to take down temporary signs. But non-temporary signs like the electronic one in Glenwood South would be grandfathered for five years because they represent a costly investment.

Neil Riemann of the Cameron Park Neighborhood Association urged the city council to support the change, pointing to the electronic signs as an example.

“Inside the glass and outside the glass need to be treated the same way, especially with these illuminated signs that we’re now seeing,” he said. “We need to have a way to regulate the brightness of those signs, their variability, their size and their hours of operation.”

The rule change goes before the planning commission this week before returning to the city council for a public hearing and final vote.

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

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