Council hits impasse on sign bylaw

Peggy Revell

A Fort Frances business is asking for a compromise from the town over the length of time that temporary and mobile signs can stay up as per one clause that has been included in an updated sign bylaw currently in the works.
“As many of you know, our family business, Belluz Concrete Rentals, has been around since 1967,” Mike Belluz said in a presentation to council at its meeting Monday night.
“And I think in order to survive that long, you have to be a successful company, but you also have to evolve,” he stressed, explaining that part of this is the addition of rentals, including mobile signs, which will be affected by Sign By-Law 19/10 the town is developing.
“I agree with what the town is trying to accomplish in setting up these provisions, special circumstances, exemptions, set backs, locations, etc.,” Belluz said about the proposed clauses within the bylaw.
“I even agree with now having to pay another permit for each and every sign I’ve set in place—even though we already pay for a blanket business permit.
“And I even agree, to a lesser extent, that we must now fill in an application for each and every mobile sign that we rent,” Belluz added, though noting this all takes time and, more importantly, costs money.
But for Belluz, the main point of contention over the proposed sign bylaw is that “an owner of lands zoned industrial, institutional, or commercial entitled to a sign permit under this section shall be permitted to display a mobile sign to a maximum of 180 days in a calendar year.”
Instead of having the 180-day restriction, Belluz proposed to council a compromise of having mobile signs limited to 300 days—roughly 10 months in a calendar year.
“You’re really restricting a business in only being able to generate revenue on a half-year rent,” he argued.
“Can a hotel survive only being able to rent out rooms for half a year or a business being restricted to only selling hamburgers to half a year?
“Could the two businesses in our area that operate garbage disposal be told that they’re only able to put their garbage bin in a property for half a year?” he wondered.
There are benefits for businesses like his to be full-time year-round as opposed to being a seasonal operation, Belluz noted.
He also cited the benefits which his sign rental business provides, with employment for a person year-round, employment for more people during the summer months, as well as contributions to the community by giving free signs to various groups to use.
“When restrictions like this are put in place at this level, it limits the products or service that any business being offered, it makes me really take a hard look at wanting to attempt any further commercial or entrepreneurial projects,” Belluz said, noting that if council were to pass the bylaw as it is now, his company would be forced to take a closer look as to if this aspect of its business is worth continuing.
The task of addressing the issue of mobile and temporary signs in Fort Frances, through developing a bylaw, was one given by council to the Planning and Development division four years ago, noted Superintendent Rick Hallam.
The decision was due “most in part to the number of complaints and people coming forward with regards to the longevity of what is, considered across Canada, as being something as routinely agreed to as temporary in nature, mobile.”
While working on bringing the aging sign bylaw “into the 21st century,” Hallam told council that he had gathered up several dozen sign bylaws from municipalities across Ontario.
“And I can tell you in all sincerity, with great confidence, that this is the most liberal of the bylaws with respect to the clauses that involve mobile or temporary signs,” he stressed.
In fact, as the Planning and Development executive committee has worked on the bylaw over time, it has become “even more liberal then when we first started out,” Hallam added, noting that this has been because of the lobbying by Belluz and two councillors.
“And that’s fine—it’s council’s decision to do these things and we carry forward with your direction,” Hallam remarked.
“But I have to state that the intent was to create a bylaw that was fair and equitable, but to very, very succinctly address the issue of the temporary nature of the mobile signs, and this is what we’ve done.
“For me, now, to consider a 10-month period, then I must tell you very candidly, why did we even bother?” Hallam said, asking for clearer direction from council as to what it wanted him to do with the proposed sign bylaw.
Council opted to recommend an eight-month compromise in the proposed bylaw, but ultimately was unable to reach a decision later Monday night.
Mayor Avis and Couns. Paul Ryan and Rick Wiedenhoeft voting in favour of the eight-month compromise while Couns. John Albanese, Ken Perry, and Sharon Tibbs voted against it.
Because Coun. Andrew Hallikas had to leave the meeting before the vote came up, it resulted in a 3-3 tie—meaning the motion was defeated.
Council then opted to send the issue back to committee in the meantime, and revisit any proposed amendments at its next meeting when all councillors are present.
“I appreciate that [Belluz] is willing to compromise, and I certainly appreciate Mr. Hallam’s position because Rick has put a lot work, and his committee has put a lot of work, into this,” Coun. Wiedenhoeft had said prior to the recommendation for the eight-month compromise.
“And we have compromised already,” he noted. “I think we started out with 90 days.
“It was 36-90 days [and] we extended it to 180.
“I would extend another compromise—he’s asking for 10 [months], we’re suggesting six, I’d saw it off for eight personally,” Coun. Wiedenhoeft added—a compromise Mayor Avis also voiced agreement with.
“I’ve seen in the United States, I’ve driven through there a lot, and some of the smaller towns [are] just littered with [the signs],” commented Coun. Ryan.
“I don’t think they have a bylaw probably, and every day, with one upmanship, they get closer to the curb.
“I’ve even seen them over the curb driving through some towns. And it didn’t look good,” Coun. Ryan added.
“So, as a compromise, I would think eight months maximum,” he remarked.
“I’m quite surprised that Mr. Belluz is considering 10 months—it’s still two months down time—and if he can live with 10 months, I can live with 10 months,” observed Coun. Perry in response to Belluz’s request.
“But I’m in favour of leaving the darn thing the way it is, and let the guy carry on his business the way it should be carried on.”
“It’s a 12-month-of the-year deal here, and he asked us to come down to 10, and I think we can,” he argued.
Belluz is the only business in town that produces these signs—compared to other towns which have multiple sign-rental businesses, noted Coun. Albanese.
“This individual is only asking for one amendment to the bylaw, and I don’t think he’s asking too much,” he reasoned.
Coun. Tibbs also agreed that 10 months would be a reasonable compromise.
“I say a lot of other signs in this town are much more intrusive than the ones that I’m looking at that are mobile signs,” she remarked.
“I think that there should be limits to how close they can be to roadways, and all these other types of things within the bylaw.
“But I don’t find them offensive, to [be] perfectly honest,” Coun. Tibbs added. “I feel because of the nature of them, they keep them pretty clean and neat as far as I’m concerned and I think 10 months is not an unreasonable [length].
“But I would suggest that there are certain restrictions—I mean, if half the letters are missing, then certainly they’ve got to be replaced and that there are restrictions on where they can be placed,” she noted.
An “awful lot of work” has been put into the bylaw and “a lot of research has been done,” Coun. Hallikas had noted before having to leave the meeting, adding those working on the bylaw have tried to incorporate some of Belluz’s suggestions.
“But what happens if we go too long for a period is we start to get away from the whole philosophy of the bylaw in terms of temporary signs,” he argued, stating he thinks council should stay with the 180-day limit.
“And the philosophy of the bylaw is that we did want to control the proliferation of temporary signs.
“And then you start allowing them for a longer period of time—I think when you start getting into 10 months or a year, then you have to admit that that philosophy is not something you’re buying into.
“You kind of have to go back to the drawing board on the issue,” Coun. Hallikas said.
When asked for further detail on the extent of the year-round sign rental business, Belluz replied he has about five-six of his rented signs up all year.
“It really depends on the nature of the business, [and] who is renting the signs,” he noted, referring to when people are likely to rent the signs, and if there would be a regular downtime anyway during the winter months.
“Like, for example, the farmers’ market,” cited Belluz. “We could [take down] the sign during the months that the they don’t operate.
“But other companies that do want to rent, they’re our long-term rents so there’s really not a downtime for them,” he added, noting that if there was the 10-month compromise, he would work to fit in the required downtime for these cases.