SDG passes sign bylaw revisions

By Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

CORNWALL, Ontario – SDG Council passed a revised sign bylaw spurred by existing issues with LED signs already installed in the county.

Council was set to approve the proposed amendments to the sign bylaw in June, but that decision was deferred following a letter from Gowlings WLG lawyer Jacob Polowin on behalf of his client, the South Dundas Waterfront Development Corporation.

That letter claimed that the proposed changes were “ultra vires” or invalid, and “considered in bad faith.” The lawyer went on to state that if the County adopted the bylaw, the SDWDC “may” pursue “all legal remedies.”

At the July 19 council meeting, Warden Allan Armstrong moved the meeting in-camera to discuss the bylaw with legal council. That closed portion of the meeting lasted nearly 50 minutes before the open council resumed and councillors voted to approve the bylaw, with one additional change.

Councillor Stephanie Jaworski (South Glengarry) proposed decreasing the time digital signs with a direct sight-line of a residential area from 10 p.m. to 8 p.m. citing families with younger children as her reason for change. Council supported that amendment and unanimously passed the bylaw.

Now passed, the new sign bylaw is more comprehensive than prior versions and spells out in detail what constitutes temporary, permanent, and digital signage. It also places restrictions on what a sign can and cannot be used for. For example, signs cannot promote violence, discriminate based on race gender or age, and cannot contain messaging, or graphics that are disrespectful or use obscenities.

Digital signs cannot change graphics quicker than every 30 seconds, have complex animations that can distract drivers, or be a visual nuisance.

Between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m., digital signs must be turned off if the sign is in the direct sight-line of a residential area. From sunset to 8 p.m., a digital sign is required to operate at one-quarter its daytime brightness if the sign is in the direct sight-line of a residential area.

Existing sign owners, if compliant with the now-previous sign bylaw, will have 15 days to adapt their signs to the new bylaw.

Director of Transportation Ben deHaan said after the meeting that dealing with compliance issues, if the issue is a public safety matter, it would act immediately. Otherwise the county would take a more reasonable approach to enforcement.

“We have to act reasonably and fair,” he said. “Which is quite honestly what the courts expect if you are legally challenged.”

deHaan explained that the normal compliance process involves contacting the property owner in person, and an official letter, about an issue with a “reasonable” amount of time to fix an issue, usually two-to-three weeks.

deHaan said that the county works with property owners who cooperate with compliance issues.

If a property owner refuses to comply, the county would follow up. Should an issue not be resolved, the county can move in and force compliance.

“Given we have to represent everyone’s interests, we need to be overly cautious and not heavy handed,” he said.

As the sign bylaw regulates signage on private property, enforcement could include entry to a property to remove a sign.

“That’s the extreme resolution of non-compliance that only happens after every other remedy is exhausted and it’s clear that we have the authority and obligation to take this step,” deHann explained.

The Leader contacted SDWDC’s legal representative for comment regarding the newly passed county bylaw.

“SDWDC has no comment at this time,” Polowin said.

Before the new bylaw was passed, SDG was already dealing with sign compliance complaints with the SDWDC.

This article was orignally written for and published in The Morrisburg Leader.

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