Cary, N.C. — Cary has big plans for new downtown development including a $33 million street-scape plan, a library expansion and renovating Cary Elementary School into a community arts center.
Some business owners already operating in downtown Cary said Friday they are excited about the town's future plans, but the restrictive sign rules have made it hard for them to grow.
"There's just not a whole lot of traffic in downtown Cary right now," said Dan Shedrick, owner of Cookies in Bloom.
Shedrick said he wanted to get more people into his Chatham Street store so he decided to self-advertise with a sign. Cary's sign enforcers intervened and said the sign blocked the view of motorists.
Town rules do not allow signs to be placed in right-of-ways. Sign enforcers also claimed the sign was too far from the storefront, another town violation.
"This used to be a lot of business for us and now with it down, people don't really know where we are now," Shedrick said.
At the recently opened Havana Grill, owner Robert Cardoso put up two fiber-optic trees on the outdoor patio seating area, about 50 feet from the road. He hoped the colorful trees would add some island flair to the Cuban restaurant.
"I think an asset to the city is to have something different, and that's what I'm trying to bring to the city," Cardoso said.
Cary also has an ordinance that forbids artificial trees from being displayed outside a business. So Cardoso moved the trees further back on the patio. Town leaders still said the trees were a distraction to drivers.
"We're 100 feet from the street," Cardoso added.
Cardoso said he has not been able to put up a sign to advertise his restaurant, because town leaders said his logo was too bright and had too many colors.
Cary Councilman Nels Roseland said the sign rules are more flexible for downtown businesses than in other parts of town and that they serve a purpose.
"It's a tough balance," Roseland said. "To balance effective advertising without cluttering the landscape and creating a honky-tonk image."
Roseland also said new investments will help bring more visitors to downtown Cary. The street-scape plan will help make the benches, lights, and downtown corridors more aesthetically pleasing. Cary has already invested $6.5 million towards the project.
Roseland said a bond will likely need to go to Cary voters next year to fund the rest of the plan. Cary has already made its first installment of $1.1 million towards the $17 million renovation of Cary Elementary School. It will include art studios, classroom, exhibit space and a small theater.
The town has also partnered with Wake County to initiate design of the upgraded downtown library. The council set aside $865,000 to pay for the design and architectural work. The upgrade is part of a $45 million library bond that will go before voters on Oct. 9.
Cary business owners have debated the town's sign rules before. The owner of a sign for South Hills Mall off Interstate 40 that is in violation has fought to keep the billboard pole sign up.
In July, council members rejected a proposal to amend the rule. The businessman said he was trying to come up with an alternative.