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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

County Road 50 sign bylaw to remain status quo

by Sylene Argent

After having administration garner public feedback and look at the Town’s Sign Bylaw as it relates to County Road 50, Essex Council voted to keep the bylaw unchanged from how it was adopted five-years ago.

  The decision was made during a special meeting hosted virtually on Monday evening.

  Council directed administration to review the Sign Bylaw, as it relates to County Road 50, at the January 20 regular meeting, after hearing a public presentation from CREW Winery proprietor, Bernard Gorski. He had requested a Site Specific amendment to allow for the continued standing of the electronic signage in front of his winery, which is located along County Road 50.

  The signage exceeds size and digital display allowances under the current Sign Bylaws for businesses in designated agricultural zones.

  At the time, administration had recommended Gorski’s application be denied, due to the sign’s ongoing violation of the current bylaw. A motion was then passed to defer the recommendation from administration until after Council had an opportunity to review the bylaw.

  Lori Chadwick, Director of Development Services, noted the original bylaw was adopted by a previous Term of Council in 2015, and it regulates the installation and maintenance of all permanent and temporary signage in the community.

  The character of County Road 50, Chadwick said, is traditionally characterized by a mix of recreational, residential, and farm operations. Business, in recent years, has changed with a growing agri-tourism industry, which includes wineries.

  There are two major types of signs permitted in agricultural districts along County Road 50. Ground signs with non-electric, changeable letters are permitted. They must be a maximum height of 2-meters. Temporary portable signs can be a maximum height of four square-meters, and can only be used for special occasions and events.  

  In regard to possibly making changes to the Sign Bylaw, the Town provided notice to residents through many means, and issued a survey.

  As part of the review, Chadwick explained the idea of adding pole signs or electronic media signs to the area was presented to the community in a survey. Neither type of sign is permitted at this time.

  There were 147 survey responses, Chadwick said, of which, 82 percent of respondents were residents, ten percent were business owners, four percent were stakeholders, and four percent did not answer this question. The majority, 68 percent, of respondents were located within the Town of Essex.

  When responding to the survey question on the contribution of existing signage on County Road 50, Chadwick said 44 percent of respondents had a positive view, 42 percent were neutral, 12 percent were negative, and two percent did not respond. Comments included they are “appealing, charming,” and “maintains rural character,” she added.

  When asked if County Road 50 signage needs improvement, respondents commented that better permanent signage was needed to eliminate temporary signage and banners, and better maintenance of existing signage was needed.

  Seventy-seven percent of survey respondents were opposed to electronic media signs, while 14 percent indicated they would be okay with them with restrictions, and eight percent responded ‘yes.’ One percent did not answer. Comments included that media signs would be contrary to rural character and not in compliance with night sky requirements. There were also concerns with distractions, brightness, size, and hours of operation.

  In relation to pole signs, 72 percent of respondents said ‘no’ because it was contrary to rural character and there were concerns with height. 87 percent of respondents were in support of portable signs, as long as they were only used for special events along County Road 50, that they were not an alternative to permanent signage, and that there was a time limit they could be used.

  Leading up to the meeting, Council received six correspondences on the issue; some of which were opposed and some were in favour of allowing media or pole signs.

  Anne Marie Grant submitted a petition of individuals who opposed digital or pole signs, the majority of which were residents of Essex, it was noted during the meeting.

  Grant also spoke as a delegate during the meeting. She said the road has a long history in the community and was originally used as a farming route.

  She shared photos of signs in other wine regions, many of which were permitted to only identify the business, she claimed. She said pole or media signs would have negative ramifications for residents. She would like the Town to be strategic on how it presents itself.

  Adam Grant also spoke as a delegate. He said changes to the bylaw would profoundly impact the region and not for the betterment of the community. He said the proposed changes are identical with the non-compliance issues of CREW’s sign. Such amendments signal to the public that bylaw enforcement is negotiable, he said.

  As someone who lives across the street from the CREW sign, he said the sign during operation is very bright and suspects it will be a distraction to drivers. He believes those who moved to the area did so to get away from urban amenities. “Is it fair to have such an inconvenience imposed on residents?” he asked Council.

  Gorski also spoke as a delegate at the meeting, noting he was in favour of a bylaw change. The Strategic Plan Council endorses, he said, states the Town would be progressive, resilient, and economically viable.

  He said he went out of his way to get many to sign a petition in support of change to include a pole sign up to five meters in height with a digital component, with restrictions to daytime hours.   

  The reason there are so many signatures on his petition from outside of the municipality is because he said the Strategic Plan considers opinions of stakeholders and visitors, in hopes they come back.

  Wineries are a major attraction in the area. Effective signs will help draw new people to the area, he said, adding local wineries need to have a competitive advantage were other regions that also house wineries and allow for more flexibility with signage.

  “Without change, there will be a negative effect on what the Town is trying to do by promoting business and growing,” Gorski said. “New signs are good for the area and will help you reach your goals. I’m asking you to follow your Strategic Plan and support growth, and bring new people and businesses to our area…and allow the technology available to us, so we can achieve our goals.”

  Joe Lucas, as a delegate, urged Council not to fix things that are not broken. He said the current bylaw is good, but needs strict application.

  Chadwick said Council could keep the issue status quo, direct administration to come up with options for the bylaw, based on what was heard through public feedback, or Council could suggest amendments.

  Mayor Larry Snively thought a decision or direction should not be made at that meeting as there was a lot of information he wanted to go through thoroughly.

  Councillor Sherry Bondy said, however, that administration was looking for feedback and direction from Council. She though if Council members have feedback, it should have been provided to administration during the meeting in a transparent manner.

  In the five-years since the Town’s current Sign Bylaw has been active, Gorski was the only one to request a change, so Councillor Joe Garon didn’t think the wheel needed to re-invented in respect to changing an entire bylaw to suit one business.

  Councillor Chris Vander Doelen said Gorski had a petition of individuals who agree with his sign, more than what he said Essex’s antiquated law permits. He would like to see commercial entities have more chance to promote their businesses. A variety of signs are needed to keep things interesting and fun. He wanted administration to find a way to upgrade what is allowed now.

  A majority Council vote ultimately chose to support Councillor Steve Bjorkman’s motion to leave the bylaw as is, with any sign requests in the future to come forward through Site Specific process. This decision was made after turning down, with a majority vote, Councillor Morley Bowman’s motion to have administration come back to Council with options.

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