The sign at the former PT Market has been moved to the back of the property. Earlier in the week it read “In storage you can’t see me

Council debates ‘tempest in a teapot’ sign issue

‘Poetry’ and ‘public art’ arguments shot down because council can’t regulate speech

Revelstoke city council has clearly heard the protest over the forced removal of the portable sign at the former PT Market, but they’re not going to intervene to allow the sign and its humorous messages. It must go, they underscored at their Sept. 13 meeting.

“What a tempest in a teapot,” exclaimed Coun. Steve Bender about the howls of protest online after news broke that the city had ordered its removal. “One only needs to read the bylaw.”

Bender said there was a great misunderstanding about how bylaws work. Council writes the bylaws, then staff enforce them, he explained at council’s Sept. 13 meeting.

Council hadn’t ordered the sign to be removed. Someone complained about the messages on the sign, so staff acted. The city operates on a complaints-based system because it is cheap and efficient. Without it, “taxes would be 10 times what there are now and we would have 40 bylaw enforcement officers,” Bender said.

Coun. Antoinette Halberstadt led a defence of the sign, saying the issue “obviously struck one heck of a nerve with some people.”

She pushed for some kind of bending of the rules to allow the sign to stay. “Some people might say this is not public art,” Halberstadt said. “I maintain it is public art. It’s not beautiful, but it’s basically poetry. It’s creative writing. It’s public creative writing. It pulled the community together. People talked about it, shared about it; it created some kind of a shared identity. It was community-building. It engendered a sense of community, and if we had such a variance, if it’s possible for staff to come up with one, I think on occasion signs like that should be allowed.”

Coun. Tony Scarcella also expressed support for signs in general, saying businesses needed them because they work.

Council asked for a verbal report from staff on the issue of variances. City development services manager Laurie Donato explained it was a slippery slope; to exempt one but not another would be problematic. She also said portable signs are banned because of appearance, visibility and safety issues.

Questions were also raised about sandwich boards and political signs. Council heard the former were allowed if a business owner got approval first and that council candidates and other political candidates are free to post signs during elections.

“Council can’t regulate speech,” added city CAO Tim Palmer regarding the variance question.

It should be noted, however, that in the original story on the sign in late August, the city’s bylaw enforcement department told the Times Review they’d taken action after complaints about the messages written on the sign.

In the end, Halberstadt’s motion went down in defeat, meaning the sign has no reprieve left at the council table and must go or face possible fines or legal action from the city.

The sign is now tucked away near the back of the PT Market property. In its place, someone is hawking a large used motorhome.

 

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