Signs projecting over a Main Street sidewalk below the designated bylaw height have led to a review of the sign bylaw, and consideration of what an “alpine theme” actually is.
The fact that many businesses were not even aware they are breaking the bylaw was acknowledged by council and Downtown Merchants Association president Corina Brewer at last Tuesday’s council meeting. Merchants first met council members on Oct. 15 to discuss the issue.
Not obtaining proper permits or failing to take down signs that break the rules comes with a penalty of up to $5,000 for each offence.
Council voted to put a freeze on any enforcement, which has been lacking anyway. Any signs that put safety at risk or are in the way of Town operations like street and sidewalk maintenance would be asked to come down. No specific signs were mentioned.
Brewer said she herself did not know she was breaking the 15-page bylaw by having a carved wooden sign hanging from her shop.
“None of the merchants are like, ‘I don’t care what the alpine theme is, this is what I want,’” Brewer explained to council.
“But we do think that these are the businesses that people talk about. These are the special businesses and the Main Street of Smithers, and this is what draws people here and why people constantly compliment us.”
Her request to have the bylaw reviewed was accepted, and Town staff is processing a proposal to bring back to council that would include a series of public meetings, focus meetings with the Smithers District Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Merchants, surveys and revised communication protocol.
A full review of the alpine theme is not in the works, but tweaking may happen. The sign bylaw was created in 2004 and last amended in 2011. There are also other bylaws that come into play and could complicate things for business owners, including the 1988 encroachment bylaw that also deals with flags hanging from walls, and the Official Community Plan.
Without full-time bylaw enforcement, the Town relies on complaints when it comes to violations that are not obvious safety hazards. Affording more enforcement was not in the cards, according to Tourism Smithers director and councillor Gladys Attrill.
“It’s only going to work if you truly believe in it and people just choose to uphold it. I don’t think in a community our size we can afford to have enforcement at that level, where someone goes up the street saying ‘this sign’s too big, it’s too small, it’s not the right colour, you have a serif, non serif (sic),’” said Attrill during the meeting.
“I think we have to get back to the part where we have it in our heart that we just believe in it and we want it to look cool, and we all recognize that our community is enhanced by the fact that everybody talks about our downtown.”