Sometimes people don’t even notice them, and other times they seem a blight on the landscape.
Municipal officials can tell people one thing about them, and that is signs are really difficult to regulate.
So when Centre Wellington Building Inspector Bob Foster faced 40 people at a sign bylaw open house over six hours on April 28, he had a little hope that the bylaws from the old municipalities that make up the current township might finally be merged.
He said in an interview last week he was just totalling up the questionnaires that had been filled in, seeking opinions on the draft bylaw.
In one case, he was already planning to recommend a change to the proposal. That dealt with Open House signs. The proposal was to limit them to 4.2 square feet, but most realtors have signs that are 2-by 3-feet, and Foster said he has no argument with that.
Given the different types of signs and the new technology that is creating even more types of signs and advertising, sign bylaws are said to be even thicker and more complicated than zoning bylaws and official plan documents. Foster has been preparing sign bylaws since the mid-1990s and is very familiar with them – and the perils of trying to get them approved.
He said this time he received 10 completed questionnaires and three letters about the township proposal.
The township had a number of principals that it considered when creating the draft bylaw:
– one size does not fit all, so some parts of the township have characteristics that warrant exceptions and limitations;
– the visual quality of the sign matters to the overall community image and site development character; and
– the cumulative effects of signs matter, and sign clutter results in a poor civic image.
The result of those principals means some areas of the township will be permitted certain types of signs, and others will not.
There are new “dark sky” and energy conservation for new signs. Foster said that has already happened in some areas. “We’re not the first” he said of trying to contain light on the property it is situated. He said new light signs within 100 feet of a property might face limits on their power and size.
Further, the township does not want “running text” in signs. The text should simply pop up, stay put to be read, and then can disappear. It should not be running across a screen.
Foster said there will be a phase in period to allow people to adopt to the new rules and regulations once they are accepted by council.
The draft bylaw, which is posted on the township’s website, contains new definitions of all types of signs, from billboards to wayfinding signs.
One of the first rules is nobody shall permit a sign to be erected anywhere, public or private property, without a sign permit obtained from the township.
No sign is permitted to hang over a township road allowance, street, or sidewalk without permission of the township’s Director of Public Works.
Further, just to demonstrate how complicated sign bylaws can get, the township does not require a permit for real estate and garage sale signs, open house directional signs, contractor signs, farm produce signs, or temporary personal signs.
Also in that group are charitable, non-profit fundraising signs erected on street frontage, and non illuminated trespassing, warning, or safety signs.
Some signs are prohibited, including abandoned signs, banner signs, flashing, revolving, or animated signs, electronic media signs incorporating moving message boards, variable message signs, tickers, and video boards, any unauthorized signs or posters on utility poles, pedestals, or enclosings, as well as progressive signs.
There are rules governing heritage properties.
Any sign that does flash electronic text must keep that text in place for two minutes.
One significant change was made for overhanging projecting signs from businesses. They have been allowed in Elora for many years, but not in Fergus. Now, they will be allowed in the Fergus downtown, with strict guidelines about height and weight, and including all safety factors, as well as the property owner indemnifying the township for any damages that could result from the sign being over a public way.
Billboards will be permitted only on industrially designated lands, highway commercial, or agricultural lands, and there are numerous regulations to meet for them.
Foster said one of the biggest and most contentious issues is mobile signs. Some business operators like them, but the township wants them regulated. None can be on township properties such as road allowances. Further, in the new bylaw, the proposal is they can be used for 30 days at a time, twice a year, with a minimum of 30 days between those uses.
The exception to that is Tower Street South in Fergus, where they will be permitted up to three times per year.
Foster said some want more. Others have agreed to make the signs immobile by burying the wheels, and he cited a number of cases where that has already been done.
Even then, there must be no moving type, illumination, or flash displays from them – or any mechanical features that would display motion.
The draft bylaw has strict criteria for their placement, and has banned the use of them in the Fergus and Elora downtown areas, set limits on the height of the letters, and banned colours on the text or backgrounds.
Sidewalk signs for businesses are permitted only in the central business districts and must be removed at the end of each business day. They must also be professionally made, with one sidewalk sign per business on the street, and with strict placement rules.
There are also strict rules governing the use of awnings that advertise businesses.
Foster also drafted provisions for existing signs. They are legal unless they are removed or substantially altered. Then, they fall under the bylaw. Regular maintenance or repair is permitted.
The township reserves the right to remove abandoned signs without notice.
Existing third party billboards on public road allowances may be permitted, provided they are relocated onto adjacent private property within 12 months of the passing of the bylaw. Further, they must have permits and may not be enlarged when moved.
Those third party billboards already on private property may remain if well maintained, but they cannot be substantially altered or increased in size.
All other third party billboards will be removed within one year of the passing of the bylaw.
There are even provisions for exclusions to the bylaw for minor variances.
The public is even being asked to submit personal lists of signs that they find distasteful or offensive. Foster said in his report that even those who did not attend the open houses are welcome to submit their thoughts on the issue. The report also included photos of sign clutter with the noted that such things are what the bylaw is designed to prevent.
Foster said the township will take all comments into consideration before preparing a final draft to take to council for approval.