Sign bylaw open house draws huge turnout

Meeting the most well attended City of Cranbrook public consultation session in recent memory — and frustrations were running high.

An example of signage featured on Cranbrook St. North.

The Draft Sign Bylaw open house was the most well attended City of Cranbrook public consultation session in recent memory, and frustrations were running high.

Over 60 people piled into the Manual Training School to hear from Rob Veg, senior planner for the City of Cranbrook. Councillors Bob Whetham, Denise Pallesen, Sharon Cross, Diana J. Scott and Gerry Warner were in attendance. Whetham is acting mayor this week as Mayor Wayne Stetski is away.

Many of Cranbrook’s business people from car dealerships to franchisees to restaurateurs attended to voice their concerns about the city’s proposal to revamp the 30-year-old sign bylaw.

“This is probably one of the biggest crowds I’ve seen for any planning project,” Veg said.

Whetham told the Townsman Thursday he too was pleased with the turnout, and he is expecting some great feedback from local businesses.

“It shows that there is a strong interest in the sign bylaw,” he said.

Veg stressed that any changes would be for new sign construction only, and the move to update the sign bylaw was a continuation of the city’s efforts to increase beautification and aesthetics in Cranbrook. The 34-page bylaw covers a lot of ground, including sign height, construction and type. Veg said the bylaw is in need of an update because when it was written, many sign types that are used today did not exist.

The issue arose back in the spring when a local business owner came before council to ask that he be allowed to have an Electronic Changeable Copy (ECC) Sign, similar to the ones used at Western Financial Place and Mount Baker Secondary School. The city decided to open up the entire bylaw to review.

Under the proposed bylaw, ECC signs would be allowed under strict conditions. The signs can only change one time every 10 seconds and must not have flashing, scintillating, blinking, scrolling or travelling letters, symbols, images or messages.

Warner addressed the crowd and asked why businesses would bother investing in ECC signs with such conditions.

“If they’re going to be that restrictive, I don’t know why a business would want one,” he said.

The public urged the city to consider having the same regulations for the two ECC signs already in operation in the city as they are asking other businesses to have, even though they are already established.

Another hot topic was the prohibition of sandwich board signs – used extensively throughout Cranbrook, especially in the downtown core. One resident pointed out that the signs are a cost-effective way for businesses to advertise specials and get people in off the street.

Nicole Marchand from Maximum Impact Signs said the bylaw would eliminate a significant portion of her business by prohibiting day-glo fluorescent signs. The locally-owned company provides customers with the non-animated changeable text signs that have popped up along Cranbrook Street in recent years. Under the proposed bylaw, businesses would have to apply for a permit to have one. It could then be displayed for only a month and then the business owner would have to wait three months to reapply for another permit.

The public also worried that a proposed change in sign height from the current 10 metres to six metres would put new businesses at a disadvantage because current signs would be deemed legal non-conforming. The bylaw states that as long as a sign is already there, it can continue to be repaired and will not have to conform to any new sign bylaw. One business owner said he has spent tens of thousands of dollars on signage already, and would not want to lose that investment.

Roy Hales, director of corporate services, stressed that current signs would not have to change.

“All of your investment made in the signs you have already remains the same,” he said.

At the tail end of the bylaw are design guidelines that Veg said he encourages businesses consult when renovating their signs. He said they are not rules, but rather ideas for future signs.

“The guidelines are just that – guidelines,” he said.

Veg said the bylaw was simply a starting point for council to consider, and feedback from the community will be used to change or alter the bylaw. The bylaw was drafted by city staff and the public consultations are held to gather that information.

“What we really want to encourage is for you to take the bylaw, give it a good read. We needed to have something to present before we could solicit feedback,” Veg said. “Please do take the time to make those comments. I’m really happy that there’s this turnout.”

Pallesen addressed the crowd and said council is elected by the public, and open houses are extremely important. She encouraged the public to take advantage of the opportunity to speak out and provide their comments.

“Now I want you guys to do your part and tell us what you want,” she said.

Whetham said the open house was the first point of contact for the public on the draft bylaw and there must be a balance for businesses and the people passing through Cranbrook.

“How do they perceive travelling down the highway?” Whetham wondered. “Clearly we want businesses to be successful.”

Whetham said the bylaw is in need of an update, whether the bylaw remains as is or is modified after public consultation because there are new sign types being used in Cranbrook.

“There’s a number of types of signs that just weren’t in existence when the bylaw was created,” he said.  “We need to find a way to address that issue.”

Jason Wheeldon, chair of the Cranbrook and District Chamber of Commerce’s ad-hoc committee that has formed to review the new bylaw, asked the city to allow them sufficient time to collect all the information they need to present to council.

Comment forms will be accepted by the city until December 31. To get a form, contact Veg at veg@cranbrook.ca.