Businesses urge Charlottetown to review signage bylaw

Charlottetown historian warns against flashy urban landscape

Dave Stewart
Published on March 31, 2014
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.
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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.’’