RDEK wrestles with highway billboard signage

A discussion on a Kimberley-based business’ off-highway billboard advertising sparked a wider debate on the topic during a regional district meeting last week.

Kimberley’s Spirit Rock Climbing Centre has two highway billboards on Highway 95A near Wycliffe and Meadowbrook, but were petitioning the RDEK board for a Development Variance Permit to bring the signs into compliance with existing bylaws.

However, the discussion around the board table soon shifted from the Spirit Rock Climbing Centre’s specific request to an overall broad conversation on the merits of billboard advertising on highways.

Much of the rural regional directors were opposed to the signage based on concerns about unsightliness and distracted driving, while some of the municipal directors wished to see the signage used as advertising for tourism and local economies.

Jane Walter, the director for Area E outside Kimberley, Wasa and up to Skookumchuk, opened the discussion, saying that her constituents didn’t want to see highway billboard advertising.

Dan Savage, the alternate director for Area A who was serving in the stead of an absent Mike Sosnowski, said that billboard advertising hurts tourism.

“The consensus in the Elk Valley was signage actually worked against tourism and to be a tourism community, we had to clear out the cluttered signage that created a trashy look to a visitor coming into the valley,” Savage said.

However, others, including Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt, argued in favour of allowing highway signage for advertising the goods and services of local businesses.

“This, to me, we put money into tourism, we sit around this table — and believe me, I am all 100 per cent for business — and we have to get that message out, that we’re open for business,” said Pratt. “If we’re telling businesses you can’t advertise, we’re going against what we’re supporting in other means.

“…If you run a business without advertising, it’s like winking at a pretty girl in the dark.”

Eventually, the debate turned into a general discussion about the issue, as the RDEK does not have a sign bylaw except under the Elk Valley Official Community Plan (OCP), according to RDEK manager Andrew Mcleod.

“In most areas, the regulations around signs are embedded in our zoning regulations, the exception is the Elk Valley,” Mcleod told the board, “where there is a stand-alone sign bylaw, but no instances does the RDEK issue permits for signs; we just establish the rules, then those people erecting the signs are expect to abide by the relevant regulations for their area.”

The board kicked around suggested a temporary use permit or simply bylaw non-enforcement if the development variance permit was refused, however, both options were dismissed.

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