Local Politics

Raleigh panel weighs loosening sign rules

Posted February 22, 2012
Updated February 23, 2012

— On George Washington's birthday, a half-dozen people wearing white wigs and colonial dress attended the first meeting of Raleigh's sign task force to lobby for liberty and justice for all.

After businesses protested last fall that Raleigh's regulations on advertising signs were too stringent, the City Council created a seven-member panel to review the sign ordinance for possible changes.

"We're asking for the same rules for everyone – all people, all rules or no rules," said Louie Bowen, the owner of Hughie & Louie's, a Glenwood Avenue costume shop that city zoning inspectors have threatened with hundreds of dollars in fines for using illegal signs.

"I don’t want to see yard sale signs. If I can’t wave on the side of the road with a costume, I don’t want to see any signs," Bowen told the panel. "We’re not asking anything but for a way to make a living, and we’re also asking for everyone to be treated the same.”

Raleigh's sign ordinance prohibits signs – including costumed characters – on a sidewalk or in the city's right-of-way along streets, both for appearance and because they distract drivers. Businesses are allowed to have signs for special events only for their grand opening and a going-out-of-business sale.

"I do think two times in the lifetime of your business is a little bit ludicrous, honestly," said task force member Cheryl Fraser, who owns Galatea Boutique north of downtown. "Rules have to happen, but maybe we could relax that rule a little."

City officials have created loopholes in the ordinance for things like lamppost banners honoring the Carolina Hurricanes or promoting the Glenwood South district. Those signs were put up for economic development reasons, officials have said.

Raleigh sign ordinance protest Business owners seek changes to Raleigh sign ordinance

"It sounds like there are a lot of exceptions made for a lot of people here in Raleigh, and it sounds like, if we make an exception for other groups, maybe we need to look at that," said Jennifer Martin, a task force member and a representative of the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association.

Walt Fulcher, the head of the city’s so-called sign police, showed the panel photos of the hundreds of violators overwhelming his crew of six inspectors, from real estate signs lining medians and curbsides to the air-filled balloon "men" than dance in front of car dealerships.

Inspectors can't get to every violator, Fulcher said, and his crew often responds only after someone has complained about a sign.

St. Giles Presbyterian Church was cited for an illegal sign, and Rev. Jim Hodge said he hopes the task force can find a compromise that treats everyone fairly.

"We didn’t think it was hurting anybody and still don’t think it’s hurting everybody, but you can’t enforce one business and not enforce it on other businesses," Hodge said. "What we’re hoping is we can re-evaluate, you know, what’s appropriate."

The panel, which will meet again on March 6, has about two months to make its recommendations to the City Council.


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  • quaten Feb 23, 2012

    Why not allow advertising on the road surface?

  • ladc Feb 23, 2012

    Nobody wants an unruly sign situation. However, the existing sign ordinances, excessively limit businesses in their ability to communicate with the public. The “temporary sign” permits, which are the focus of this panel, are, as I understood from the meeting, decades old, open to broad regulatory interpretation and exemplified by exception after exception by city government.

    I can’t tell you the number of time I have heard the phrase “I didn’t even know these businesses were here.” Followed quite often with “Why don’t you put a sign out.” It’s a good point since consumer oriented businesses particularly depend upon effectively communicating with consumers.

    Currently only 2 of those permits are permitted in the life of a business. So those special notifications that consumers love to take advantage of are extremely limited. Unfortunately there is no such recourse with the sea of Realty Signs dotting the Raleigh landscape. They do such a wonderful job of ad

  • jmzbzle2 Feb 23, 2012

    "...because they distract drivers." I don't mean to start an unintelligent debate, so I'll comment and leave. Reading this line makes me think of the decals (signs, if you will) on police cars. They distract me, so have them removed also!

  • cdtech20059 Feb 23, 2012

    I am all for advertising if done in a tasteful way. I think signs should be constructed on permanent fixcutre in front of their busienss. I also think you can have people holding signs in front of the business.

    I oppose those square cardboard stake type signs you see on the side of the roads. I think anyone who puts those up should be fined. They are always flapping in the wind, blowing in the road and end up polluting the streets.

    I agree what Cary does with it's sign ordinance. Do we really need 20 signs saying "special home sales" "dvd to cd" "work from home" "church this way".

    To be honest I do not visit any businesses who pollute using the signs I mentioned.

  • Rocky2.0 Feb 23, 2012

    If you want to see how not to do signs, just drive up Capital Blvd.

    Of course, Cary is the other extreme. I would not have a business in Cary because in a lot of cases, there is no way to see the business from the street and without a decent sign, you are shafted.

  • fayncmike Feb 23, 2012

    Talk about driving distractions. Don't we all hate those new digital signs?

  • woodybeez Feb 23, 2012

    theres a monopole on poole rd advertising insurance. the sign looks ok but is in an awkard place. go figure the city must need money

  • dmccall Feb 23, 2012

    I wish we could have turning signs and billboards.

  • piene2 Feb 23, 2012

    One of the best parts of places like the Adirondack park where I have a vacation home is the fact that there is minimal and stringently controlled signage. t is a pleasure to drive down the road and not be inundated by hundreds of ugly signs.

  • Arcademan Feb 22, 2012

    with the crackdown on signs I almost went out of business
    maybe the sign police are owned by the media!!! I can't pay the fees
    for the ads