Signs of the times

Cranbrook Chamber wades into sign bylaw debate; Committee looks to local businesses for council feedback.

The Cranbrook and District Chamber of Commerce has formed an ad-hoc committee to look at Cranbrook City Council’s proposed changes to the sign bylaw ahead of a public consultation session Wednesday.

The Chamber Sign Bylaw Committee met for the first time on Friday, November 30 after concerns were brought up over the city’s new draft sign bylaw that came before council for first reading at the November 19 regular meeting.

Jason Wheeldon, chair of the Chamber committee, said it’s important that business owners not jump to conclusions with the draft bylaw, because it is merely out for public consultation at this point.

“They’re floating it, it’s not set in stone. They’re looking for public input,” Wheeldon said.

The Chamber has however had a number of concerns brought up by its members, and the committee is currently in the process of compiling that information to bring before council as a delegation. Wheeldon said the Chamber has looked through the sign bylaw, and they are trying to get as much feedback from their members as they can.

“We have identified a few areas that we would like to have some further discussions about,” he said. “We want to make sure that we engage our members.”

Already the proposed sign bylaw has been a hot button issue in the city, but Wheeldon stresses that nothing has become bylaw yet.

“There’s a lot of confusion,” he said.

The new bylaw allows for seven new sign types and changes the height and size requirements for signs. For instance, freestanding signs will only be allowed to be six metres tall, down from 10.6 metres tall, if the new bylaw is approved. This rule is designed to reduce clutter on the skyline through Cranbrook and improve viewscapes.

A number of signs that exist in Cranbrook at the moment are slated to be prohibited under the new bylaw. Most notably, these include “day-glo”, fluorescent, and luminous signs, as well as sandwich board signs. But any existing signs will be exempt from the new rules if the bylaw passes as is; however new and renovated signs will be subject to any bylaw changes.

“It’s very important for people to know that the existing signage – if the bylaw is passed – would be legal non-conforming,” Wheeldon explained.

The bylaw was last updated in 1977 and Wheeldon said there is room for improvement, but it must not impede business in the city. Mayor Wayne Stetski told the Townsman last week that the bylaw update is part of the Highway 3 beautification project.

“Over the next year, we are going to look at all aspects of Highway 3 through Cranbrook,” said Stetski.

The committee will also consider things like art and sculptures, zoning, and the addition of playgrounds and parks along the strip, he said.

Along with the regulations that the proposed bylaw contains, there is a set of guidelines for businesses to follow when they are planning a new sign.

“Staff has tried to balance off regulations versus guidelines in the bylaw,” said Mayor Stetski.

“People don’t necessarily have to follow (guidelines) – we are going to encourage people to follow them because ultimately, in my ideal world, we would have a Cranbrook look to signage.”

The guidelines, for instance, discourage backlit and neon signs. Freestanding signs should be located in a landscaped base with plants that are suitable for this environment. Sign materials should be natural in character, ideally wood, stone, rock, brick or painted metal. Earth tones or other natural, warm colours are preferred. Signs in downtown Cranbrook should complement the historical character of the area, ideally with design that reflects “turn of the century” architecture.

Once the Chamber committee has compiled and reviewed the information, Wheeldon said they will go before council and present their findings on behalf of the members. They will also be meeting with council following the public consultation to discuss other concerns that were brought up.

Wheeldon said the ad-hoc committee has a local sign-making business as a member, which is helping them work through the technical aspects of sign construction. They will also be reviewing sign bylaws in other communities to see what else is out there and how it compares to Cranbrook. After the public consultation the matter is set to come before council again in the new year.

The open house on the draft sign bylaw will be held on Wednesday, December 5 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Manual Training School beside Cranbrook Public Library.