Last September a new sign by-law was passed by Council to cope with what Fire Chief Paul Hutt refers to in his report as “sign pollution”. At the time, Chief Hutt explained the reasons for the new bylaw: “Potential hazards and over-population of signs have been identified and need to be addressed. It is fitting for the Municipality to put a system of control in place to maintain the safety of its residents and help create an aesthetically pleasing and welcoming atmosphere for visitors”.
The new by-law is a lengthy document, fourteen pages long, with five pages devoted just to definitions. They include Animated Signs, Awning Signs, Banners, Billboards, Community Mobile Signs and many, many others. The report to Council noted that “Staff reviewed the two current By-Laws and undertook meetings with a stakeholders committee to compile and formulate the proposed drafted By-Law”.
However, since the bylaw was approved by Council, its implementation by enforcement officers has led to quite a number of complaints by residents who have had various signs removed by the municipality. The section of the law which is generating most upset deals with what the text refers to as “Temporary Community Signs”, in other words, the A-frame signs put up by community groups, churches and other voluntary organisations to advertise concerts, garage sales, fish fries and other events. These are usually put on as fund raisers, or as services to the community.
Part of the confusion surrounding the sign issue is that there are a number of possible categories into which these type of notices fall in the bylaw. There are clauses dealing with “Temporary Neighbourhood Event Signs”, Temporary Community Mobile Signs”, “Temporary signs advertising charitable or community services or events”, and “Temporary Portable, Mobile, Banner, Charitable and Special Occasion Signs”. It takes a very careful reading of the law to identify which kind of sign is covered by the various clauses, and the overall effect is to confuse those sincerely trying to abide by the terms of the bylaw.
Some of the signs that have been removed by Bylaw Enforcement officers were, it was believed, properly set back from roads and sidewalks, and some were even on private property. It may be that the officials themselves are unclear on what is, and is not, permitted.
But even when the conditions of the law are understood, some of the restrictions are upsetting residents. For example, a service group or other voluntary organisation or church which is holding a special event, or a fund raiser for charity, is restricted to having signs out for no more than two weeks before the event. Signs must be removed one day afterwards. Experience has shown that it often requires a longer advertising lead-in to an event, especially when ticket sales are a factor.
To make things even more restrictive, none of these charitable and voluntary groups are allowed to advertise more than two events every year. For churches, for example, this means that, aside from Christmas and Easter, they cannot advertise any other event at all by using temporary signs. Furthermore, in most cases, the two events they are allowed to advertise in this way must take place more than 90 days apart.
Chief Hutt has pointed out that the text of the bylaw had to be careful to meet all legal requirements, and that meant that an educational component was necessary to ensure that those affected by the new law were informed as to its terms. This was done with regard to local businesses, but it was harder to inform churches, service groups and similar groups about the demands of the bylaw. As a result, some signs were removed and returned to their owners, but no fines were levied, and further information was provided for future use.
It is hoped that the terms of the bylaw will be revisited in the future to allow the municipality to enforce it with more flexibility with regard to charitable events. Chief Hutt notes that the wording of bylaws from similarly situated municipalities was used in framing the new bylaw, but it will be reviewed to see which are applicable to NG and which need to be re-framed to deal with our unique situation. A Concise Guide to the Signs Bylaw has been produced by Chief Hutt’s office and is available to all those interested in advertising their events in future. The NG Times will publish the guidelines in coming issues.