Businesses urge Charlottetown to review signage bylaw

Dave Stewart
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Charlottetown historian warns against flashy urban landscape

The billboards along University Avenue in Charlottetown are not digital, which means someone has to climb a ladder to change letters every time the business wants to change the message.

They're not looking to turn downtown Charlottetown into Las Vegas but businesses think change is in order.

The Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce is lobbying the city to consider changing its digital sign rules.

With a couple of exceptions, city bylaws prevent the use of exterior digital signs.

Keith O'Neill, president of the chamber, says some members argue this policy needs updating, particularly with changes in technology in recent years.

“Whether it’s McDonald’s or Joe’s Pizza, it doesn’t allow them to have an electronic sign on its buildings or on the roadside so that it could (for example) change the pizza advertisement or it could change what McDonald's (wants to advertise) that it’s having for breakfast,’’ O'Neill said.

Businesses can advertise specials, for example, but it requires having to pay someone to physically climb a ladder and change the letters on the sign. O'Neill said that creates workers’ compensation issues for business should the person manually changing the signage slip or fall.

The chamber is asking the city to see what other municipalities across Canada do when it comes to electronic signage. Businesses certainly don't want to put the city in a predicament where streets take on “Las Vegas-style lighting’’ appearances and they don’t want to cause headaches for residents who may be bothered by having flashy signs outside their bedroom windows.

As mentioned, there are exceptions to the city's bylaw against electronic signage. The Confederation Centre of the Arts and The Guild both have electronic signs where messages flash across the screen. All someone has to do to change that message is simply type in another one via a keyboard inside. They were permitted to install electronic signage because both businesses are in the city’s heritage areas and the bylaw gives the heritage board wide discretion over what signs are approved there. There is no such discretion outside the heritage area.

City historian Catherine Hennessey says she is still a believer in less is more when it comes to signage.

“I am not a believer in letting our city go buzzy with signs. I’m simply not,’’ Hennessey said. “I’ve read a lot about this and I think we don’t need that kind of thing at all. I don’t think it’s our style.’’

Hennessey still thinks all the signs along University Avenue that light up give Charlottetown a bad name.

“Is that how we want to lead people into the birthplace of Confederation? I think they should cool it.’’

O’Neill said there’s no reason why businesses like Buns and Things or Price Mart can’t advertise specials in an easier, safer fashion.

Meetings have already been held with the city on the matter.

“We have met with them and they are willing to look at options. I think they still have to do a bit more homework to see what other municipalities do,’’ the chamber president said.

Hennessey is already thinking ahead.

“Let’s hold a workshop and learn more about signage. (The electronic sign at Confederation Centre) has driven me crazy from the day it was up there. I don’t think it’s necessary.’’

dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/DveStewart

Organizations: Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce, Confederation Centre, McDonald's The Guild

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Las Vegas, Canada

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  • Cb
    April 01, 2014 - 00:43

    Laughable.. The heritage department allowed the two LED signs?.. But the city won't let them OUTSIDE of the heritage zone because they look too Vegas Style?! Seems kind of backwards... Also seems that the city/heritage department is playing favorites.:/ typical island, it's who you know! They'll let them in, some stupid rule that you can't change what's showing on them but once a minute.

  • Adolphus
    March 31, 2014 - 19:47

    It's interesting that a province which makes 'Nostalgia', ' The Island Way of Life' and 'The Gentle Island' its main tourist attractions has let itself look like everywhere else. University Avenue looks exactly like Mountain Road in Moncton. Waste Watch is progress, and I'm certainly in favour of re-cycling, but Charlottetown could easily be re-named "The City of Bins and Litter' instead of the "Cradle of Confederation". It's time to realize that we can't make money selling the future and the past at the same time. As the old joke goes "If it weren't for bad taste some people would have no taste at all". Let's decide what we want, and go there. Visit Lunenburg or Le Vieux Port of Quebec City. Great tourist attractions - no garish signs. BTW, 'Rubberbooter' your name stands for exactly the things you are arguing against. Duh. I don't suppose any of these blogs were written by business people, were they?

    • Rubber booster
      March 31, 2014 - 21:14

      Adolphs, Thanks for the compliment saricasm was the intention of my nickname. And yes you too make some valid points.

  • RubberBooter
    March 31, 2014 - 12:34

    We in PEI tend to be scared of change. Most of us remember the plebiscite that was held to build or not build the Confederation Bridge? Those results were narrowly in favor of building the bridge connecting Canada's Birthplace to the rest of Canada. The results were like 49% nays and 51% yays. So imagine if you will the same plebiscite were to be held today to keep the bridge as it is or go back to the ferry service? I assume the results would be vastly different. As we have changed our way of life, travelling, buying goods and services. Also the Connection to Canada did not increase crime on our Island as this was a detractor during the plebiscite. That new “Link” was a change and as a result of this change we have evolved and progressed as a Province. Throughout many of the cities in Canada there are areas designated areas preserving our Heritage. However the entire cities are not held back by a few who are opposed to change and progress. We do need change to progress for if we did not we would still have the Farmers Market on Queen Street, we would all drive Model T cars, our houses would have large tube monochrome television sets, and wind up phonographs. This is our heritage for sure. Do we actually live each day in the past? Take for instance if you were bringing a family member or friend into the city for the first time to show off Canada's Birthplace would you rather explain how we have a thriving City that is changing with the times having tastefully designed digital signs or LED Monitors with some uniformity. or several not lit make shift signs that are more of an eyesore and a safety hazard. Take a look for yourself on your next tour down University Avenue. Its 2014 I find it hard to believe that our capital City is reluctant to advance their technology and allow digital signs to advertise the latest and greatest exciting deals that would possible stimulate sales in within the City, rather than all our money being spent at big box stores owned by Corporations on the outskirts of the City.

  • Steve
    March 31, 2014 - 11:04

    I'm getting sick-and-tired of these supposed guardians of "heritage" saying nothing can ever change or be updated. These people would probably get rid of cars entirely and bring back horse-and-buggys. We need a vibrant business sector a lot worse than we need constant fawning over the past.

    • intobed
      March 31, 2014 - 12:56

      So putting up bigger flasher signs on the street will give us a "vibrant business sector"? Where did you get this misguided idea? Business succeeds by selling a product or service for good value to the public while also making a profit. There are already many smart ways to advertise, so a simple sign at the business' physical location should be all that is needed.

  • Jon Vandergaag, use your real name maybe our opinions will mean something in the real world
    March 31, 2014 - 10:05

    1. The more stories i hear about the "Heritage people" the more i question its existence and purpose other than messing with people's lively hood, keeping Charlottetown looking like a ghost town, sabotaging possible new business and development and holding more power than our elected officials. 2. I don't understand in any way how having less, but more effective signage along university would suddenly make us look like Vegas. All that statement tells me you are about 20 years behind in technology, creative thinking, and business and you have obviously no idea what Vegas looks like. 3. Upon entering Charlottetown, university gives the impression that we ae a beat old town where the Macdonalds can't afford a decent sign the signs have half their letters missing and upside down numbers for letters because replacing this letters is actually pretty expensive. They are also a health and safety issue and a theft and vandalism magnet. The upkeep of the signs themselves is a huge cost to businesses. 4. You think you need to put together a workshop to talk about signs...yeah because THAT'S the problem.

  • nitpicker
    March 31, 2014 - 07:26

    The key for signage (digital or otherwise) is to be tasteful and well thought out. There's no reason to believe digital signage must also imply tackniess. Do opponents to digital signage really think the current appearance of unversity avenue is ok? Its as ugly as sin.

    • intobed
      March 31, 2014 - 13:29

      I agree 100% nitpicker. Unfortunately, by looking at University Avenue it is obvious that to most businesses "bigger, brighter, and more garish" = better. It is why we have the signage laws we have now. If businesses did just go to a small electronic sign instead of a sign using letters I would have no problem. But some business people don't care about tasteful, and will find loopholes to make things even worse visually, if the laws are changed.

  • vick
    March 31, 2014 - 07:25

    I was just thinking this recently when driving through Montague and saw the digtial sign at Mcdonalds I thought that is very clean and professional looking. I Dont eat there but I really like the clean look! Until chtown gets rid of and stops listening to the Catherine Hennessey's Danny Redmonds and the Mitchel Tweels there will never be any advancements in the city just saying! Very close minded individuals!

  • Bob
    March 31, 2014 - 07:17

    I think that the filth of garbage and dirt that Charlottetown is washed in is a more significant issue than signage. The majority of the properties in the heritage zone of Charlottetown are dumps that need to torn down. The potential of Charlottetown is infinite but only with forward thinking and not 1960's thinking, so cry if that is what you need to do , but get out of the way of progress.

  • Enough is enough
    March 31, 2014 - 06:56

    There are so many signs now that it renders them all useless. Each business should be allowed one sign, either on the building or next to the road, minimally lit. There are so many signs now that one can hardly notice the stop lights.

    • Ryan
      March 31, 2014 - 10:04

      Um. If you can't notice stop lights because of the signs that businesses put up, I suggest you drive to Access PEI and have them shred your license because you're not fit to drive. On second though, take a cab to Access PEI instead.

  • voter
    March 31, 2014 - 06:45

    if its ok for the corner queen street and grafton street ,etc.etc,etc,it's ok for university avenue how about nice light poles like on Water Street.Great George Street etc,etc,etc