Mixed signals given on signage

The WinnipegREALTORS® Association made a formal presentation during the city’s recent standing committee for property and development hearing on its new zoning bylaw that will regulate and shape all future land use in the city, exception of the downtown. 

The full presentation is posted on the www.winnipegrealtors.ca website under position papers. The website uses a traffic light format to highlight the association’s opinions. A green light implies a bylaw item should go forward. Items highlighted by yellow are considered cautionary and require further investigation — at least a better interpretation of how they will be applied (i.e. planned overlay districts). A red light — used on seven points — expresses the need to stop and question  the city’s direction.

One red light item is the rigid approach taken by the city when reviewing and approving this very important and powerful regulatory bylaw. A number of representations, including one on behalf of WinnipegREALTORS® and another from a REALTOR® commercial member, expressed the opinion that the bylaw does not take into consideration how the new zoning districts will be applied to property owners’ land use. 

According to the city, such concerns would have to be addressed after the new bylaw is enacted in 2008 in a rezoning application. For good reason, some presenters were visibly upset that there was no real indication how the new zoning applied to their property. 

It also became evident at the October 16 public hearing that the city is taking a rigid stand on the new zoning bylaw. 

Another red light item in the WinnipegREALTORS® presentation was the last-minute inclusion of changes to sign enforcement. 

The WinnipegREALTORS® presentation on the new bylaw said: “Another example is the call for the Winnipeg Public Service to draft guidelines for development and site standards for electronic message board signs. A representative from WinnipegREALTORS®, who attended the final meeting of the zoning advisory committee in December 2006, where signage was clearly a focus of the discussion, does not recall any intimation or direction that electronic message boards should be a conditional use. 

“Moreover, Winnipeg Public Service is now suggesting city council might want to limit third-party advertising.  Are they suggesting then that WinnipegREALTORS® can no longer do a contra arrangement with the Winnipeg Goldeyes on our respective electronic message boards? Is that not restricting content as they state they would not recommend doing? Talk about mixed signals!”

WinnipegREALTORS® was taken aback with this new development as was  Ken Devine, the representative for the Manitoba Chapter of the Sign Association of Canada. He said in his presentation at the public hearing: 

“The city’s existing bylaw, which has been working well for our industry as well as signage owners, is very close to the proposed 6400 draft with the exception of Part 5, section 182.2, specifically as it applies to the new technology of electronic signs.   

“The draft By-law as written, suggests a limit to the height of electronic signage of nine-foot tall letters and requires a separation between electronic signs of 500 feet. If this draft is passed as proposed, there would be an 800 to 1000 per cent increase in variance applications, which is inconsistent with the goals of the council.  

“From our own experience based on last years data, it would have cost Winnipeg sign owners close to an additional $40,000 in red tape. This red tape process pertains to the cost of the application posting, presentation and other costs. We have no idea what this extra burden would cost tax payers for the additional administrative duties.   

“We understand from the administration that in some cases  ‘best practices’ in similar jurisdictions that have recent, modern, new zoning codes are adopted, and we were given both Calgary and Chicago as examples of ‘best practice’ sources.  

“Through our research we found that, while similar to the Winnipeg draft, Calgary’s current bylaw and rules for electronic signs date back to 1980, which we would suggest, is not a fit for a new vibrant modern Winnipeg.  

“In the case of Chicago, its new bylaw reflects a change that allows electronic signage in more districts than ever before. In fact, in a recent interview with Mr. Tony Celia, from the award winning North Shore Signs in Chicago, he acknowledged that the new bylaw treats this technology no differently than conventional signage. 

“As a responsible industry, safety of the public is always a concern for us.  Electronic signage is an easy, convenient way for sign owners to update their signs without the need to climb ladders to change the messages, and we all know, in our climate this can be a very dangerous task when it is -40°C, windy and there is a four-foot snow drift.  

“We are also very concerned about the primary audience — drivers. To address this issue, we have complied a number of studies on the effect of electronic signage and driver safety.  I have brought with me studies done by universities, non-profit organizations and American departments of transportation.

“All of these studies, including one forwarded to us from Winnipeg Public Works Transportation, Engineering Division, are inconclusive in finding any correlation between driver distraction, traffic accidents and signs.  

“In fact, one of our own studies  based on Manitoba Public Insurance data on traffic accidents at locations in Winnipeg where electronic signs have been installed, show a possible decrease when you compare pre-installation to post installation data ... 

“Our city is vibrant, modern and has embraced new technology with projects such as the MTS Centre, the new airport, Manitoba Hydro’s state-of-the-art facility and the proposed Museum of Human Rights. Electronic signs will add to this vibrancy. 

“Traditional advertising avenues have become insufficient to meet the needs of modern business. Through electronic signs, sign owners have the ability to communicate directly to their local customers with relevant real time information. 

“Through this marketing tool, organizations have experienced between 25 to 30 per cent increases in volume. Increased volume goes hand in hand with an organization’s ability to grow, and therefore increases employment, the city’s tax base and as well property values ...  

“Electronic signs utilize LED technology for their lighting. Never before in the history of our industry has a single item had such a positive impact on the preservation of the environment.

“In LED lighting applications, the power consumption is reduced as much as 90 per cent over traditional lighting. 

“With electronic signage’s ability, or potential, to consolidate the number of existing signs, there would be a reduced demand for things such as plastics, paints and other petroleum-based products. 

“Further, this technology would eliminate the need for what has become a universal concern;  that is, the use of mercury in lamps.

“In the absence of scientific data that would support a safety concern, as well as the obvious esthetic, economic and environmental benefits of this new technology, we would ask that this committee recognize the benefits of electronic signage, amend the draft and treat this new and exciting technology no differently than it is currently treated.” 

Stay tuned. 

The new zoning by-law will be going through further reviews and there will be more changes to come. WinnipegREALTORS® will remain involved and raise concerns it feels are warranted.