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Brantford Council rejects amendments to billboard bylaw

City of BrantfordBrantford Council rejects amendments to billboard bylaw

City of Brantford Council defeated a resolution to increase the permitted number of signs permitted on a lot, during their Committee of the Whole, Planning and Administration meeting on Tuesday, March 19, 2024.

The resolution was brought forward by Councillors John Sless and Gino Caputo in an attempt to have Chapter 478 of the municipal code (sign by-law) reviewed against comparative municipalities for sign regulations and best practices.

As well, the resolution asked that a report come back to the committee of the whole in Q2 of 2024 in order to make potential amendments to the by-law to allow for a maximum of two single sided billboards or one triple sided billboard on any given lot, and to remove restrictions requiring that billboard messages be clearly visible to, and within the direct line of sight of pedestrian and motorists.

“What this is doing is just asking Staff to do some research to see if we’re current and if there’s something that we should be addressing in our sign by-law,” said Sless. “It was raised by a business in the City that has an opportunity to do something that it’s not allowed to do with the way our by law is structured, and he’s asking that we do the review and he’s going to do his own review as well to help the City with information so that they can make an informed recommendation to council.”

Councillor Greg Martin said he would not be supporting the item.

“I was on the committee that looked at the sign by-law the last time it was reviewed and at the time, there was a proliferation of the portable signs along King George Road to the extent you couldn’t see the businesses and it was like driving down a canyon. I think any change to our sign by-law will be regressive, and it’d be bad for our community. If we allow more and more signs, you’re not going to be able to see the businesses we’re trying to promote,” he said. “…I think this opens us up to having too many signs again. It’s one thing to do the research, but if you’re not going to support increasing the number of signs, please don’t waste Staff time by having them do research that’s going to be wasted.”

Caputo noted that he was fully behind the item and wanted to look after the needs of the City’s businesses.

“It’s a competitive marketplace out there and there are businesses that actually rely on these types of signs to be able to capture some of the business that’s happening around them,” he said. “I don’t think any one of us have ever driven where we haven’t seen one [a billboard] that caught our eye. At this point, I think it’s imperative that we actually see what other communities are doing to allow us to be able to be there for our business people.”

Councillor Brian Van Tillborg asked when the last time a review on the by-law was done, and Andy McMahon, Chief Building Official for the City of Brantford, noted that there had been amendments made to the by-law in late 2022/early 2023.

Van Tillborg said he would not be supporting the review as something similar had already been done recently.

“I’m really not looking forward to opening up this can of worms that we’ve hashed out over and over again,” he said. “I can’t see it being better in the long run if it goes back to the way it was.

Councillor Rose Sicoli asked then asked McMahon if the public had been recently consulted on the matter.

“We consulted with the public the last time we made amendments to the zoning by-law related specifically to digital billboard signs,” he responded. “But there wasn’t a lot of feedback from the general public, it was more from the sign contractors.”

Sicoli said that while she was more aligned with Martin and Van Tilborg on the matter, she would be listening to hear what the others had to say.

McMahon did note that this potential by-law amendment is different than what was most recently discussed as it pertains to allowing for a three-sided billboard.

Councillor Dan McCreary said that while he would like to be able to support the resolution, it wasn’t as simple as adding a third sign to a corner lot.

“There are other impacts that this doesn’t take into account, most notably, the impact on those who live in the region affected by this and the brightness that these things contribute,” he said.

Kevin Davis, Mayor for the City of Brantford, also asked for more specifics about the last review on the by-law.

“The review that was done several years ago, was that not primarily directed to the light intensity of certain billboards? It wasn’t a total comprehensive review of our billboard regulatory scheme was it?” he asked.

McMahon confirmed that the last review was on light intensity, the dwell time and the distance to the intersections with traffic control signals. He said that the last time a full and comprehensive review was likely done was at least ten years ago.

The Mayor said that while he could see himself supporting a full and honest review of billboard regulations, he didn’t like the idea of increasing the amount of signs and asked that the clauses be separated for a vote.

“I can support a review of our billboard regulations and requirements to make sure that’s in keeping with best practices, but I think B (the other clause) pre-judges that review and says we should have double, if not triple the number of signs,” he said. “I agree with other members of council that this is probably not a good thing, it leads to a cluttered look on the street and I believe it creates certain safety issues for drivers and pedestrians.”

Sicoli then moved an amendment to the resolution, asking that if a review was approved, they would add in a component of public consultation to the report. The amendment then carried on a vote of seven to four, noting that those is favour were Councillors Mandy Samwell, Martin, Sless, Caputo, Michael Sullivan, Sicoli and Mayor Davis.

Speaking to the clause as amended, Sless brought up a previous Committee of Adjustment meeting where a similar request from a business was turned down.

“The problem that the Committee of Adjustment had, was that it was a unique situation and they had nothing to compare it to because we hadn’t looked around and so they said no. …This is an opportunity to go out to other communities and see if they have something in their by-laws that does address a situation like this one,” he said. “It’s not to bring a bunch of the black signs back… It’s about looking at unique situations and about unique properties that fit into a category that doesn’t fit into what we have in in a general by-law.”

The clause to direct Staff to review comparator municipal billboard sign regulations and best practices, and to complete a public consultation process, was then defeated on a recorded vote of seven to four. Noting that Councillors Sullivan, Sless, Caputo and Samwell voted in favour.

The clause that would direct Staff to report back to the Committee of the Whole in Q2 of 2024 with the results, and to allow for a maximum of two single sided billboards or one triple sided billboard on any given lot, as well as to remove the restrictions requiring billboard messages to be clearly visible, was defeated on a recorded vote of two to nine. Noting that Sless and Caputo voted in favour.

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