UNITED COUNTIES of SD&G, Ontario – A controversial LED sign for a development in South Dundas led SDG Counties to overhaul its sign bylaw.
County councillors discussed possible changes to the roadside sign permit bylaw during its September 30th Committee of the Whole meeting.
The issue stems from a sign that was permitted by SDG Counties’ department of transportation and planning services, and installed along County Road 2. The sign, owned by South Dundas Waterfront Development Corporation, was installed on the property just in front of a residential home built this past year.
Both the Counties, and the Municipality of South Dundas have received complaints from residents about the sign being excessively bright at night and flooding the open area around Doran Creek with light.
Counties director of transportation and planning services Ben deHaan proposed two revisions to the bylaw: put in place restrictions for electronic sign operation; and to ensure local sign-off from the lower-tier municipalities before the Counties issue a permit.
“That means the applicant would have to go to the local municipality and get sign-off on the permit before it comes to the County,” he said. “That gives the local municipality the opportunity to review what is being proposed, ensure they are satisfied with it, and advise the applicant of what other code provisions need to be conformed with to proceed.”
County councillors were not interested in keeping the process at the upper-tier municipal level.
“This whole discussion has been generated by one sign in South Dundas,” said councillor Steven Byvelds (South Dundas). “[This sign] sticks out in the middle of nowhere and it has created a lot of grief for the local residents in that area, because it is quite bright.” He said the sign is out of place for the area.
Byvelds said that instead of sign installers applying to the County before consulting with lower-tier municipalities, he would like it reversed so that applications start at the local level.
“The Counties only care about their little bit, it’s more traffic concerns than anything else,” he said. “Our concern is zoning. Our concern is the impact on the residents and the area involved. If [the sign] is a structure then there are building code issues to deal with.”
The County issued a permit this spring for an LED sign installed in front of single residential home constructed just east of Doran Creek on County Road 2 near Iroquois. The SDWDC applied to SDG for the sign permit because it is along a County road, but according to the Municipality of South Dundas the sign required a building permit because of the size and type of construction. “The current sign out there should have had a building permit, it doesn’t meet our zoning bylaw, there’s a lot of issues that could have been resolved before it got to the Counties,” Byvelds said.
Since the sign was installed, there have been complaints about the hours of operation of the sign, its overall brightness and the rotation of the sign slides.
The sign advertises various development properties owned by the SDWDC including a proposed eight home development behind the sign location. According to deHaan, no application for a subdivision has been filed as of October 6th.
Recently, Morewood-based Guildcrest Homes disassociated its company from the SDWDC saying it was not involved with the company. A similar statement was made by The Holmes Group, which operates the Holmes Approved Homes program by HGTV personality Mike Holmes. The SDWDC sign continues to advertise these companies on its sign.
“In my opinion an illuminated sign in a residential area doesn’t make a lot of logical sense, in a commercial area it makes 110 per cent sense,” Byvelds said.
“Most applicants are honest people and everything is great. That five per cent is going to give you headaches and this is one of them,” he added.
deHaan said he had no objection if council wants to have the process start at the local municipal level.
Byvelds said that signs should be no different than how the two levels of government deal with setback permits. That process is initiated at the local level, and the applicant is advised if a permit from the County is needed.
“If we allow [LED signs] to happen the way it has, it sets a precedent. It’s hard to go back,” Byvelds said.
Byvelds, who is also mayor of South Dundas, explained there are many concerns with the SDWDC unrelated to the sign.
“They are talking about wanting to do a subdivision in their backyard, Ben [deHaan] has nothing on paper,” he said. “They build a residence that they turn into commercial. You know, beg for forgiveness after you’ve done it. They continue to do structural work on this residence that is beyond any residential unit. They have a 10 car paved parking lot in front of it. There’s a lot of issues here.” Byvelds said the situation has not resorted to legal action at this time. “But it is a mess, and it continues to be a mess.”
Councillor Kirsten Gardner (South Dundas) concurred with Byvelds’ sign issues saying that if the approval process remained with the Counties first, the bylaw needs to specify property zoning that digital signs are allowed on.
“That conversation around protecting the residential areas and what they see outside their window, there needs to be something,” she said. “If the County bylaw is not going to speak to the residential element to it, then it should be the reverse approval.”
Other councillors supported the South Dundas members of County Council in adopting a local-first approach.
This story was originally written for and published in The Morrisburg Leader.