Raleigh City Council creates committee on controversial sign rules

ccampbell@newsobserver.comApril 3, 2014 

— A controversial proposal for new Raleigh sign restrictions will get a going-over by a committee of business owners and residents, city leaders agreed Tuesday, amid outcry that existing rules are already too strict.

The City Council will appoint the committee later this month. It will consider proposed restrictions on window signs that could force as many as a quarter of Raleigh businesses to take down some of their advertising.

The Greater Raleigh Merchants Association and dozens of business owners came to Tuesday’s meeting to ask the council to go the opposite direction, loosening existing sign rules.

“The sign ordinance in Raleigh is one of the most restrictive that we run across in all of these markets,” said developer John Kane, who owns North Hills, as well as other commercial properties throughout the region.

Kane pointed to Raleigh’s requirement that signs feature only four colors.

“It makes the signage very ineffective, and it becomes very homogenous,” he said. “I would urge you to adopt a policy that encourages innovation and creativity and eliminates a lot of these arduous restrictions.”

But several council members say they aren’t ready to throw out all the restrictions. “The sign ordinance has gone a long way to making our city attractive,” Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said. “Maybe we went to one extreme, and now we need to find a middle ground.”

While the businesses are pushing for more sign freedom, the council still wants to consider the window sign restrictions, which stem from complaints about a bright electronic sign on Glenwood Avenue.

“I want to task (the committee) with the review of the window signs,” Mayor Nancy McFarlane said, adding that the committee’s hearings could also take comments about the current rules.

Jennifer Martin, director of the merchants association and Shop Local Raleigh, said the committee’s work should be broad. “We have heard from over 90 percent of our members that they would like to request a complete review of the city sign ordinances,” she said.

City zoning staffers will be looking at ways to make sign permits more efficient – something Councilman Bonner Gaylord asked for Tuesday. He said some businesses have found it easier to get an alcohol sales permit than a sign permit. “I think we may have a challenge here,” he added.

The council will select committee members on April 14 and begin a process that’s likely to take months. “One of the things we need to look at is ... how can we encourage creativity without going overboard?” Baldwin said.

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

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