Raleigh panel weighs loosening sign rules
Posted February 22, 2012
Updated February 23, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — 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.
"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.